hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018
Big Talk:

Who Are The People Who Have Been Hurt, And How Can They Be Made Whole?


Odette Dureland, Haitian-American living in the US since the nineties, green card since 2002, citizen since 2012, with a child in air force training, punished in 2017 and 2018 for an application she may have filled out in 1997, by mistake, and then never followed up on. If this is ok, what is not ok?

What makes the Dureland family's story so horrible are the cascading failures and cruelties: Because of one terrible decision to prosecute the most featherweight of "crimes", an offense which a judge deemed worthy of 5 months in prison, she pays, and her family pays, not just for 5 months, but possibly forever.




Perhaps because Jorge Garcia is the same age as me, this tragedy seems impossible to accept. There is no reason for this family to be separated, and re-uniting the Garcia family is one of the political issues I most care about.

There are two sources of illegal immigration, border crossings and visa overstays. It seems to me that visa overstays should be enforced in the same way that bar tabs are enforced. It seems to me that border crossings should be enforced in the same way that the most benign, forgivable forms of trespassing are enforced, with moderate penalties, and most importantly, with a statute of limitations.


This story, where the trespassers are somewhat sympathetic, and the trespassee is somewhat unsympathetic, seems to me to provide a useful intuition pump as to how the most benign, forgivable forms of trespassing should be enforced:


Whatever you think was the appropriate punishment for the Martin's 5, seems to me like the upper bound of the appropriate punishment for border crossers.

One falsehood I see floating around is the assertion that Obama was the "Deporter-In-Chief", with the implication that there is no significant difference between immigration enforcement under Obama and immigration enforcement under Trump. In reality, Obama's immigration enforcement was significantly less cruel than under George W. Bush, which in turn was significantly less cruel than under Trump.

. . .But the portrait of a steadily increasing number of deportations rests on statistics that conceal almost as much as they disclose. A closer examination shows that immigrants living illegally in most of the continental U.S. are less likely to be deported today than before Obama came to office, according to immigration data.
Expulsions of people who are settled and working in the United States have fallen steadily since his first year in office, and are down more than 40% since 2009.
On the other side of the ledger, the number of people deported at or near the border has gone up — primarily as a result of changing who gets counted in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's deportation statistics.
The vast majority of those border crossers would not have been treated as formal deportations under most previous administrations. If all removals were tallied, the total sent back to Mexico each year would have been far higher under those previous administrations than it is now. . .

The Spirit of '68

I am one of those people who had a possibly foolish enthusiasm for the 50th anniversary of 1968, and the possibly foolish idea that the Democratic party, 50 years on, is in fundamentally the same place: locked in an intense 3-way between squares, hardhats and hippies, between the people who write the laws, the people who enforce the laws, and the people who protest the laws.

I don't really know how Democrats should appeal to squares or hardhats, but I do think there are a few obvious appeals that Democrats can make to the protestor class:

1. A simple acknowledgement of the legitimacy and importance of protest and dissent. A nation without protestors is a nation that will go to war in order to destroy weapons that do not exist, or to protect delusory dominoes that are in no danger of toppling. The greatest Americans of our time are the ones who protested the Iraq war (I was not one of them). For a citizen of a free country, it is not enough to work hard and play by the rules. A citizen of a free country has a duty to use their god-given common sense, to make sure that the rules are not stupid or evil, to make sure that the work is good.

2. More concretely, I think the Democrats should promise more lenient treatment for Edward Snowden, Reality Winner and other dissenters. There seems to me a lot of scope for political moderation, mercy and peace-making, between the protestor view that Snowden and Winner are heroes, and the extreme establishment/enforcer view that they are traitors.


3. It is now getting on 18 months since Chelsea Manning was released from prison. . .and the world has not stopped spinning on its axis. How many other people could be released from prison, without disturbing the earth's rotation?

4. Support for people like Colin Kaepernick, who has been treated unfairly, for minor offenses. At one point, I actually thought Kaepernick's career arc might follow Steve Young's: a great athlete who became a great QB in the second half of his career. But he never got the chance.



note: I removed the reference to Marc Lamont Hill, because I decided that I did not know what he believes, or why he believes it. However, he still deserves fairness, and may not have received it.


Back when I had Korean colleagues, I tried to explain the concept of NIMBYism to them, and asked whether Seoul / Korea had a similar phenomenon. They said no, that people in Seoul were happy when there was new construction/development near their property. I wonder if this is true, and why their attitude might be so different from people in the Bay Area?

Jamal Khashoggi

I don't agree with the criticism of disproportionate outrage over Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Turning on a regime because they murdered your friend seems to me to be just about one of the best reasons in the world for turning on a regime. The duty of a progressive is not to dampen the possibly inordinate desire to be loyal to a murdered friend, but to increase the number and kinds of people we feel friendly toward. Perhaps starting with the victims of the Yemen war.



Little Talk:

Note on avoiding apathy and indifference: Have a minimum amount of active media time, time where you not only read the news, but try to respond as appropriately as you can.

Note on avoiding panic: Have a maximum amount of passive media time, time where you merely consume the news, without trying to respond.

Dorothy L Sayers essay, partly on the difference between ghosted and unghosted effort:


George MacDonald on choosing your neighbor:

[ 48 ] My Neighbor 
A man must not choose his neighbor:  he must take the neighbor that God sends  him. . .The neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you into contact.
Even in homogeneous 19th century Scotland, there must have been no shortage of people confident in their ability to create utopia, just as long as they were allowed to exclude the right people.

Two GIFs

Lawrence and Ali:


Bobby Lee:


Squashing the beef like Drake and Yeezy


Miller, Bannon and Trump: brutal in peace & cowardly in war.


C.S. Lewis - Kipling's World
. . .There is nothing Kipling describes with more relish than the process whereby the trade-spirit licks some raw cub into shape. . . 
. . .If we all need “licking into shape” and if, while undergoing the process, we must not guard our rights, then it is all the more important that someone else should guard them for us. What has Kipling to say on this subject?. . .
 . . .In His Private Honour the old soldiers educate the recruits by continued bullying. But Kipling seems quite unaware that bullying is an activity which human beings enjoy. We are given to understand that the old soldiers are wholly immune to this temptation; they threaten, mock, and thrash the recruits only from the highest possible motives. Is this naïvety in the author? Can he really be so ignorant? Or does he not care? . . . 
. . .Whatever corruptions there may be at the top, the work must go on; frontiers must be protected, epidemics fought, bridges built, marshes drained, famine relief administered. Protest, however well grounded, about injustice, and schemes of reform, will never bring a ship into harbour or a train into the station or sow a field of oats or quell a riot; and “the unforgiving minute” is upon us fourteen hundred and forty times a day. This is the truest and finest element in Kipling; his version of Carlyle’s gospel of work. It has affinities with Piers Plowman’s insistence on ploughing his half-acre. But there are important differences.
The more Kipling convinces us that no plea for justice or happiness must be allowed to interfere with the job, the more anxious we become for a reassurance that the work is really worthy of all the human sacrifices it demands. “The game,” he says, “is more than the player of the game.” But perhaps some games are and some aren’t. “And the ship is more than the crew”—but one would like to know where the ship was going and why. Was its voyage really useful—or even innocent? We want, in fact, a doctrine of Ends. Langland could supply one. He knows how Do Well is connected with Do Bet and Do Best; the ploughing of the half acre is placed in a cosmic context and that context would enable Langland, in principle, to tell us whether any given job in the whole universe was true worship or miserable idolatry;  it is here that Kipling speaks with an uncertain voice. . .
. . .I have a disquieting feeling that Kipling’s actual respect for the journalist and contempt for the schoolmaster has no thought-out doctrine of ends behind it, but results from the accident that he himself worked for a newspaper and not for a school. And now, at last, I begin to suspect that we are finding a clue to that suffocating sensation which overtakes me if I read Kipling too long. Is the Kipling world really monstrous in the sense of being misshaped? How if this doctrine of work and discipline, which is so clear and earnest and dogmatic at the periphery, hides at the centre a terrible vagueness, a frivolity or scepticism? 

next post: 9-19-19

Monday, July 16, 2018
Big Talk

This Roxane Gay piece struck a nerve:


IMO, it's up to all of us to find a path in between 1) The apathy and indifference of Cousin Pookie 2) The hysteria and panic of Henny Penny 3) The clouds of Nader-Steinian solipsism 4) The pits of Strong Sadian despair.


There seems to me a kinship between an unwillingness to account for who you are bombing and why, and an unwillingness to account for which families you are separating, and why. In both cases, an indifference to hurting people, and an unwillingness to talk about how to hurt people less. Or, heaven forfend, even help.

At times like this, I feel an immense affection for the people who wrote and refined the Civil Rights Act. They set a standard of right conduct for us to live up to, and orient ourselves by. If human beings make it to the year 3000, the Civil Rights Act will be one of the glories of the 20th century.


Little Talk:

I have an uncle who, for a time, was perhaps a trifle over-fond of the Tolstoy short story, "How much land does a man require?" I like the story myself, or at least don't mind it. And lately, I have been playing around with the frame, "How much X does a man require?", where X = work, play, screen time, recreational screen time, etc, etc.

On work, I am finding the pattern of a work week that I like is 4 work days, 2 half days, and 1 off day. If I am feeling enthusiastic, the half days will be more work than off, if not, not.

Therefore my work week will be, on average, 5 work days. How many work weeks in a year?

The upper bound is the preposterous Malcom Gladwell suggestion, 360 / 365 days in a year, which basically suggests 52 work weeks, 7 days a week, - Chinese New Year.

I wasn't willing to endorse 360 / 365, but maybe 336 / 365? This leaves 29/30 days in a year unaccounted for, with 48 work weeks. This is a nice round number, enabling you to divide the work year into six eight week terms, or vice versa.

Under this rule, 48 work weeks a year, 5 days a week, X would equal 240. This seems plausible.

However, when I look at great vacations I am aware of, many of them were longer than 4 weeks.

If you want to create space in the year for said great vacations, that would imply 6 or even 8 weeks of vacation.

Therefore X would equal 52 work weeks, 5 days a week, - 30 or 40 vacation days = 220 or 230 work days in a year.

So my answer to "How much work does a man require?" would be 220-240 days of work in a year.

But what kind of work? Not sure, but I am paying attention to my ratio of desk / non-desk activity.

The question I was asking here was not so much, "How much should you work?", but rather "How much should you encourage yourself to work, even if you don't necessarily feel like it?", as well as "How much should you encourage someone in your care to work, even if they don't necessarily feel like it?".

next post: 12/18/2018

Thursday, April 06, 2017





Blog post for 4-17-2017 (2/2):

Not feeling much of an impulse to yawp at the moment, so mainly epistolary blogging, from various emails over the past year:

Little Talk:

I've been playing around with the idea of Fibonacci tithing:

First, determine your residual: income - essential expenses.

Split your residual 3 ways: Yoga, lobha, and bhoga.

Or, less rhyme-y but more accurate in translation: Dharma, Artha, and Kama.

Or:  Charity, Investment/savings, and personal.

Of the personal money that you don't wind up spending, split it half way between charity and investment/saving:

Of the money you devote to charity (33 per cent of your residual), split it up like this:
1 arts & science
1 public interest journalism
2 politics
3 religious organization
5 religious charity
8 reputable charity
13 disreputable charity

I guess the main thing worth commenting on, is that I believe, that while both are important, disreputable charity is more important than reputable charity.

 I'm currently working. . .as a contractor. The contract is supposed to last till June 30, 2017, and if I can last that long, I will be very happy, and in a good position to carry out my plan of moving to India in 2017. . .

If I can adjust to the pace and smarts and work ethic required to keep up. . .I can see it being a very good year. A good opportunity for me to explore SoCal, and make a jump in my understanding of the software trade, before abandoning it for studying math!

. . .I'm definitely *planning* on moving to India in 2017, whether I will actually do it, who knows? There are a bunch of math/physics books/textbooks I want to read/work through, it makes sense to me to do it in a place where my burn rate will be lower, plus I have many friends from my school years in India, and would enjoy living closer to them for at least a few years. I'm tentatively planning to travel in the US/Canada in the summer of 2017 (Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon are near the top of the list of places to visit) then arrive in India soon after that.

I [plan] to move to India, [sometime] after easter 2017, for a few years, at least, to study math, at first. . .I am looking forward to it, though I am feeling a bit more fearful and a bit less courageous now that the time has finally come to put my plan into action.

In any case, once in India, and for some months before in preparation, I will have to eliminate dollar expenditures. . .

. . .Regarding my India plan, one day in a bar, I was describing to a friend what I wanted to do if I had the money, and it was basically sit at my desk everyday and work through math and physics textbooks, without deadlines, until I had achieved the deepest understanding of the book's subject matter that I was capable of. My friend said it sounded like one of those old Rabbis, who spend all their time studying the Talmud, never doing a stroke of work, and I agreed that that sounded pretty much right. Ever since then, we called it my "Rabbi Krishna" plan, and at some point I selected Easter 2017 as the date I would start on it.

An example of the type of books: Calculus, volumes 1 & 2, by Tom Apostol, and Mechanics, by Kleppner and Kolenkow.

I decided to do it in India because:

1) I went to school in India for 5 years (6th-10th grade), and would like to live for a few years closer to my Indian friends and family.

2) I hope it will be cheaper than the US. . .

It could very well be my [planned budget] is a hopeless underestimate, in which case I will have less time. We shall see.

My plan to move to India came before Trump, though the prospect of leaving him behind is not displeasing. What the Trump movement has clarified for me is what I believe in: I believe in a society of free and equal human beings, and I believe that without both a love for freedom, and a love for equality, the human spirit starts to sicken and die.

Equality for me doesn't mean we all have beachfront homes, but it does mean a society where nobody has to suck up, or gets to spit down.

As I get older, I'm starting to understand a bit about the rigors of aging. It's difficult, no question about it. In C.S. Lewis's book of letters, edited by his brother, in one of the last letters of his life, which his brother chose to end the book with, he talks about an enduring sorrow for mutabilitie (quoting Edmund Spenser, I think), and I agree with them. . .

. . I also am grateful for this opportunity to write down the things I've been thinking. Maybe I should do it more often!

. . .I would say, I will be in India within a year, and probably a bit sooner. (Gives me chills to say that!) The contract at my job currently ends on June 30, I had planned to leave any time after Easter 2017. If the contract is extended 6 months, I may accept it, but right now, I'm not expecting it to extended. [It wasn't.] There's also the possibility my contract would be suddenly cancelled, before June 30, which would be a trifle worrying, but no more than that, and I'm excited at the prospect at not having to worry about stuff like this, at least for a few years!

After I leave my job, I am planning to do a little traveling - Crater Lake and the Grand Canyon are on the list. Then on to India!

Actually, one of my favorite cartoons is Charlie Brown's rage at Snoopy after Snoopy takes 3 strikes down the middle of the plate without swinging. Haven't been able to find it online. . .Thanks so much!!! It's the cartoon I remembered. 

CS Lewis's anthology of George MacDonald helps keeps me closer to sane in a world (and a self) frequently gone mad, but the price of buying sanity from such a supplier is that you have to listen to that voice, when it roars with an inescapable clarity and volume:

      [ 271 ] Visitors
      By all means tell people, when you are busy about something that must be done, that you cannot spare the time for them except they want of you something of yet more pressing necessity; but tell them, and do not get rid of them by the use of the instrument commonly called the cold shoulder. It is a wicked instrument. 
One of my favorite bits from Surprised By Joy:
Closely linked with Barfield of Wadham was his friend (and soon mine), A. C. Harwood of The House, later a pillar of Michael Hall, the Steinerite school at Kidbrooke. He was different from either of us; a wholly imperturbable man. Though poor (like most of us) and wholly without “prospects”, he wore the expression of a nineteenth-century gentleman with something in the Funds. On a walking tour when the last light of a wet evening had just revealed some ghastly error in map-reading (probably his own) and the best hope was “Five miles to Mudham (if we could find it) and we _might_ get beds there,” he still wore that expression. In the heat of argument he wore it still. You would think that he, if anyone, would have been told to “take that look off his face”. But I don’t believe he ever was. It was no mask and came from no stupidity. He has been tried since by all the usual sorrows and anxieties. He is the sole Horatio known to me in this age of Hamlets; no “stop for Fortune’s finger”.

next post: 1/18/2018

Update: Postponing the next post to 4/18/2018.

Update 2: Postponing the next post to 5/3/2018.

Update 3: Sigh. Postponing the next post to 7/19/2018. In the meantime, 2 stories which simply can't be ignored:








Blog post for 4-17-2017 (1/2)

Not feeling much of an impulse to yawp at the moment, so mainly epistolary blogging, from various emails over the past year:

Big Talk:



Emmett Rensin (via Glenn Greenwald): 'It's very strange that there are so many liberals for whom Trump was the new Hitler only up until the moment he actually started killing.'

What on earth is Rensin talking about? Did you he miss the reports about Trump bombing (and killing) more in the past 100 days than Obama had in a year?


This represents a blindspot on liberal/leftist views of HRC as a hawk, in my opinion. She was indeed more hawkish than Obama when it came to humanitarian interventions. But on Afghanistan specifically, and the war on terror more generally, she was probably more dovish.

Before Libya, I may have thought that it was possible for the US to pick a side in a war, and lend its superior technology to the more moral / less evil side. Now, I think that the right way to assess a proposed humanitarian military intervention is David A. Westbrook's rule of thumb:

Let me suggest a rule of thumb: we should not undertake the moral burden of killing when we are unwilling to undertake the existential risk of dying. . .
. . .Hence my rule of thumb: if we are serious, we should be willing to put troops on the ground and fight. In Libya, that probably would have meant defending some rather arbitrarily defined territory against the advance of Gaddafi’s troops, and then working for a negotiated solution on that basis, ideally with an appropriately drafted UN mandate. If we are not serious, however, we should not be killing people, hoping to tilt some balance in some direction that might be more advantageous for us. But hey, who knows?
The first question to ask about any statement in favor of a bombing campaign is, "How many people do you intend to kill, and why?". The answer for the Syrian bombing seems to be to "send a message" to Assad. And it's possible that the bombing was designed not to kill people, but to destroy infrastructure.

I am now very skeptical about any military intervention, including humanitarian interventions, based on "killing bad guys", or "sending a message" to a bad guy. I believe, because all of us are a mixture of good and bad, a strategy based on killing bad guys will eventually destroy the entire world. I am willing to consider a humanitarian military intervention with a strategy based on protecting vulnerable populations. But it seems absurd to talk about that, when we're not willing to accept any refugees.

For bombing campaigns proposed in order to fight Assad, and bombing campaigns in general, I think the right assumption to make is that, for every 10 foreigners killed, at least 1 American will eventually be killed, either due to short-term casualties, or due to long-term blowback.

If you make this assumption about the evil consequences of bombing and killing, I believe this makes most bombing campaigns, including most humanitarian bombing campaigns, a bad idea. Which seems to me, correct.


I have fairly extreme political views, and I usually try to avoid inflicting them on innocent people. Sometimes, I try to spare guilty people, as well.

In this particular case, imagine the most extreme anti-Trump feeling possible, and then double it. The man represents everything I do not like, and everything I do not believe in. I find it impossible to respect anyone who voted for, supported, or enabled Donald Trump in any way. I am willing to forgive such people, but it is not possible to forgive someone who does not want forgiveness, and who is not willing to repent and atone.

This seems a fair artist's depiction of my reaction to the election of Modi in India, the election of Trump in the US, and having to pay for parking at work:


I guess an optimistic view of the election would be to view it as a national version of the Prop 187 / Prop 209 elections in California.

My anti-Trump campaign would have been / would be incredibly preachy and sanctimonious, I'm afraid, but that's where I am at the moment: "Stand up for the immigrant and refugee, stand up to bullying and bigotry, hold fast to compassion, fairness and the golden rule. The American heart, and the American soul, are worth fighting for."

In response to this Michael Moore piece:


It was a pretty prescient electoral analysis, but I don't buy the economic arguments. If they wanted anti-establishment economics, they could have voted for Sanders. There's a reason they preferred Trump to Sanders, and IMHO the reason is not pretty: the reason is that Sanders believes in a society of free and equal human beings, and these assholes don't want equality, they want hierarchy. TBH, I find it impossible to respect anyone who voted for Trump.

But then, I usually hold pretty extreme political views, and I usually avoid inflicting them on innocent bystanders. And sometimes even the guilty ones.

Let me go Forest Gump, and early 90's:




And that's all I have to say about that.

What I want from the democratic establishment is a plan to end homelessness, healthcarelessness, and long-term unemployment/discouragement. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives. But to paraphrase Secondo in Big Night, they give to me nothing.


But I'll be voting for HRC. I know at least that she supports universal health care, and among the members of the establishment, I trust her and Al Gore more than most. I believe in competitive primary elections, but I don't believe in third parties.

Email my mom sent to the HRC Campaign:

'Very deeply touched by Hillary. Her grace, poise, her smarts, education. She would have done a lot more for the American people, given her experience holding so many offices. As she put it, we have to accept, and continue to do good things- from wherever we are. Thank you Hillary for being such a shining example to so many people. God Bless you and your gracious family. Thank you, and we do want to see you  in the public office soon, doing great things. May God give us all the courage to get over this set back in our lives at this time!'

The HRC Campaign sent a very gracious reply.

What the Trump movement has clarified for me is what I believe in: I believe in a society of free and equal human beings, and I believe that without both a love for freedom, and a love for equality, the human spirit starts to sicken and die.

Equality for me doesn't mean we all have beachfront homes, but it does mean a society where nobody has to suck up, or gets to spit down.

Politically, the crackdown on immigrants / brown people, is making me sick, but I am appreciative of the people fighting on their behalf.

Seeing Bannon whinge about the camp of the saints, makes me realize there must have been at least one guy in the Donner party eager to start gnawing off legs, even with several tonnes of provisions in the store room.

Bannon's reported counsel to Trump, that he has no choice but to stick with the pogrom, because the stains of his sins are permanent and will never wash off, reminds me of Saruman's taunting of Grima at the end of the LOTR.

This bit, from Al Gore's eulogy to his father, seems to me to get to the core issue of this, perhaps any, political era:


The old man was always teaching, his son said in the eulogy. "And I thank God he taught me to love justice. Not everyone was eager to learn. One unreconstructed constituent once said, in reference to African-Americans — though that was not the term he used — 'I don't want to eat with them, I don't want to live with them, and I don't want my kids to go to school with them.' To which my father replied gently, 'Do you want to go to heaven with them?' After a brief pause came the flustered response: 'No, I want to go to hell with you and Estes Kefauver.' "
President Obama,

I wept with joy at the reports you were considering a commutation for Chelsea Manning. I believe a commutation would be just, and more importantly, would be an embodiment of the principle that we should save every life that it is in our power to save. I do not believe a commutation would harm American national security. Chelsea Manning has already served 7 years in jail, and David Coombs has eloquently testified that other troops he represented, guilty of less forgivable crimes, received much shorter sentences.

 If you commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence, I, and I think millions of others, would be eternally grateful.

Thank you for your consideration,
Krishna Rangarajan

Sandra Bland & Aaron Swartz seem somewhat similar to me, helpful people who were willing to help, and bail others out, but were depressed at the thought of needing help, and needing to be bailed out.

Probably my favorite paragraph of commentary on Mad Men:

One line from Coca-Cola’s official history of “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” made me laugh. Billy Davis, the music director for the Coke account, had a problem with the idea for the spot when it was pitched to him. He said: “Well, if I could do something for everybody in the world, it would not be to buy them a Coke… I’d buy everyone a home first and share with them in peace and love.” Backer, the creative director, responded with one of the most confident, full-of-shit lines of spin in history: “OK, that sounds good. Let’s write that and I’ll show you how Coke fits right into the concept.”

A Deep Thought, inspired by comparing the economies of 2000, 2007, and 2016: 'All levels of employment are full-employment, but some levels of employment are more full-employment than others.'

Noahpinion asks what calls for 'humility' mean in economics. For me, it means less emphasis on optimizing, more emphasis on disaster avoidance / mitigation. For example, some very smart people believe the optimal rate for capital taxation is zero. Some even smarter people believe the optimal top rate for income taxation is 70%. I believe humility means paying less attention to these kinds of smart-data optimizations of policies which are already ok/satisfactory, and more attention to even the most simple-minded, thick-headed, naive policies designed to mitigate genuine economic disasters, such as homelessness, healthcarelessness, and long-term unemployment/discouragement.

Disaster avoidance / mitigation seems to me relevant in going too far to the right, and producing homelessness, healthcarelessness and long-term unemployment / discouragement. It also seems to me relevant in going too far to the left, and producing what's happening in Venezuela.

Humility would also mean the economics profession being willing to admit that they don't understand the sources of prosperity in rich countries. For example, I think the American economists advising Russia in the early 90's assumed that they understood what the sources of American prosperity were, and that by following their advice, the Russian economy would progress in the direction of the American economy.

In hindsight, the right advice for American economists to give to Russian politicians in the early 90's should have been something closer to, "We can't pretend to understand what the sources of American prosperity are, and we can't pretend that by following our advice, the Russian economy will make progress in a positive direction. Here are our best guesses. But remember, avoid making, if possible, sudden changes in programs which people depend on, and be alert to any significant change in policy having unintended negative consequences, instead of the hoped for positive consequences."

In hindsight, the Terrell J. Starr / Alternet dispute can be seen as a fairly strong example of attacking / refusing to believe the messenger.

Most important lesson of the Sanders / Clinton primary, in my opinion: the revolution has to start in South Carolina and Nevada, and not just Iowa and New Hampshire.

next post: 1/18/2018

Update: Postponing the next post to 4/18/2018.

Update 2: Postponing the next post to 5/3/2018.

Thursday, April 21, 2016






Big Talk:

Scumbag Bernie

I agree with Atrios that it's a bit bizarre to see certain HRC supporters continue to attack Sanders after HRC won. I think these people have allowed themselves to forget that any ordinary, normal politician would have attacked HRC on the email "issue". Sanders, because he rightly believed the issue to be bullshit, and because he is an unusually principled and decent politician, did not. He did attack her on the Goldman transcripts issue, but while I think he may have harped on it a bit too much, that seems to me a legitimate issue: it does seem to me of legitimate public interest to know the kinds of things HRC says when she is addressing a group of finance industry pros.

Sanders wants to stay in the race for the same reasons any politician would want to stay in the race, if they were in his shoes. You'll remember Clinton said in her 2008 convention speech, "the biggest glass ceiling in the world has 18 million cracks in it." "The biggest glass ceiling in the world would have had 18 million cracks in it, if I hadn't dropped out early", wouldn't have had the quite the same ring.

HRC and the 2016 campaign

I would divide a political campaign into 1) positive vision 2) defense against opponents attacks 3) attacks on opponents

1) I see some parallels between the 2016 campaign and 2000. In 2000, Gore ran a dutiful, diligent, weight-of-the-world-on-his-shoulders, campaign, and afterward regretted that he hadn't "let it rip", and let the American people know what was truly in his heart. I think Gore's convention speech in 2000 was excellent. I think his debates were not, probably in part because he had too much contempt for George W. Bush.

In 2000, I also remember seeing an interview with Dick Morris. At the time, I felt unbounded contempt for Morris, for all the obvious reasons. The first part of the interview was full of slashing attacks on the Clintons, who Morris probably felt had betrayed/abandoned him. But when it came to Gore, I was astonished when Morris said something like this: "I think he should run on the environment. I think it's a big issue, I think he really believes in it, and if it works [as a political issue], it could win him the election."

In hindsight, it seemed to me very good advice. And it was a bit of a revelation to see a political advisor advise candidates to run on the issues they actually cared about, and not on the issues the polls say they were supposed to care about.

With that advice in mind, I seem to remember HRC once saying, when asked what she would be focused on as President, something like, "raising the incomes of American households". It was a perfectly fine, unobjectionable thing to say, but I don't think it really worked, because in my heart of hearts, I didn't really believe it. I don't really believe HRC goes to sleep at night worrying about how to raise American household incomes.

One of the things that makes Elizabeth Warren inspiring is that one of her passions is very clear: she fights for her parents, and people like them:


To be honest, I'm not sure how important it is to have a positive vision. It seems to me plenty of campaigns have won with a wrong vision, or no vision at all. It may be that excessive believe in the importance of "vision" or "message", might be worse for a campaign than having no vision. Mary Landrieu once won an election on the absurd, to me, issue of sugar imports. But to the extent a political campaign has a positive vision, it seems to me it should be one the candidate really believes in.


I also think that in looking at people's political worldview. it may be better to look at people's ruling passions, rather than their beliefs, per se. For example, I would say that in a political context, the ruling passion of both Trump and Carson was contempt for Obama.

In 2013, Carson believed, sensibly enough, that running for president would be a dumb thing for him to do. I do believe he ran for president in part because he was moved by the passion of his supporters. But I also believe that what pushed him over the edge into running was an unwholesome contempt for Obama, and a desire to outshine Obama by not only winning the presidency, but winning it by being thrice as good and twice as black, in half the time, with a quarter of the political experience.

I don't believe Carson was motivated by grift, though he was too tolerant of grift in some of his top staff. Coates reports on Carson before he entered politics:

For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Carson has special importance. Whenever the black folks at our summer camps or schools wanted to have a "Be A Credit To Your Race" moment they brought in Dr. Carson. I saw him speak so many times that I began to have that "This guy again?" feeling. As an adult, knowing how much it takes to speak in front of people, I can recognize that Carson's willingness to talk to black youth (and youth in general) came from a deeply sincere place. There were no cameras at those summer camps and school assemblies. No one had money to pay him. But he showed up.
Months after Dr. Carson retired, a Hopkins party was held, kept off limits to the media. “We didn’t want this to be turned into a political thing,” Dr. Brem said. “We wanted this to be about Ben Carson — our Ben Carson.”
". . .we were in the surgical lounge and we were talking about what led us to become physicians; it’s kind of a common conversation for people to have, and at that time I thought he was a resident just like me, because he looked so young and I had come into it a little older because I had done electrical engineering in the interim, and I thought he was at my level. 
“You know there is a hierarchy at Hopkins, and I probably wouldn’t have been having a personal conversation had I known that he was already attending and chief of pediatric neurosurgery, but of course he took the fast track, and uh, but he was a very approachable and humble guy. . .it was a self-deprecating story’ it wasn’t a story to aggrandize him."
Similar to Carson, I think one of the primary ruling passions of Trump in a political context is contempt for Obama, a desire to bang the table, LBJ-style, and declare he's had more presidencies by accident than Obama has had on purpose.


In a political context, my ruling passion is probably a country, and a world, without homelessness, healthcarelessness and long-term unemployment. A world where everyone has what they need to do their best work, and be their best selves.

Orwell - the cost of letters

We have come to take it for granted that in advanced nations almost everyone can at least afford the essentials of life. Ordinary people may not dine in three-star restaurants, but they have enough to eat; they may not wear Bruno Maglis, but they do not go barefoot; they may not live in Malibu, but they have a roof over their head. . .
There is really only one essential that is not within easy reach of the ordinary American family, and that is medical care. . . 
Suppose that Lyndon Johnson had not signed Medicare into law in 1965. Even now there would be a radical inequality in the prospects of the elderly rich and the ordinary older citizen; the affluent would receive artificial hip replacements and coronary bypasses, while the rest would (like the elderly poor in less fortunate nations) limp along painfully -- or die. . .

(Via MMBhttps://morecrows.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/unnecessariat/


Deep Thought: one passion to rule them all . . .

3) I think because there are so many ways to attack Trump, it's important to stick to the criticisms you really believe in. For example I don't really believe in attacks on Trump's adulteries, or bankruptcies. I have been fond of many adulterous politicians and celebrities, such as George Moscone, Big Jim Folsom and Babe Ruth. And I believe strongly in a forgiving, generous, easy, fast, stigma-free bankruptcy code.

The attacks on Trump that I think I really believe in:

A) His treatment of Rosie O' Donnell really bothered me, in part because it betrayed a bleak, Manichean view of the universe as divided into winners and losers. In part because it was mean and humorless.



One way of looking at the Trump campaign is that it seems to be attracting all of the whites, and a few of the non-whites, who have a fundamentally zero-sum view of the universe. One of the things I used to joke about is that the Trump campaign would give very good data on the size and geographic dispersion of the white racist demographic, as well as good data on the size of the Uncle Ruckus demographic. It broke my heart when Carson crossed that line:


Well, broke my heart is an exaggeration. But it did annoy me.

The Manichean religion of win-lose-nodraw seems to me bigger than Trump.

Bill Watterson says it better:


As does Michael Arndt (Q14 - Agenda Beneath the Comedy):



As does Abhijat Joshi:



B) Scapegoating of immigrants


C) Scapegoating of Muslims


D)  Scapegoating of anyone who happens to be a convenient punching bag, or who gets in his way.


E) I resent his constant lecturing of me on what a loser I am, and his constant lying to me about what a winner I will be if only I buy what he's selling.


F) It's an old-fashioned way of putting it, but Trump seems to me the anti-4-H candidate: the candidate of people whose hopes for the future do not involve being kinder, healthier, more skilled or smarter than they presently are. They don't wish to be better people, they merely wish to negotiate a better deal. Or failing that, negotiate a worse deal for somebody else.


Donna Edwards


The election I care most about this cycle is Donna Edwards for Senate. Edwards seems to to me as exciting and inspiring a candidate as Elizabeth Warren.

The only thing more inspiring than Donna Edwards or Elizabeth Warren would be a combination super-candidate, Elizabeth Edwards, resurrected from the grave.




I don't mind Saban being pro-Israel, and I think Saban had only a marginal effect on the Maryland primary. But I don't like the culture of fear in the liberal press when it comes to discussing Saban and his attitude toward Palestinians.

(with apologies to Mel Brooks):

First Banana: So what did Donna Edwards do to incur the wrath of Saban?
Second Banana: She said, "The Palestinians ain't so bad."
First Banana: [shocked] "The Palestinians ain't so bad?" Huh, you're lucky she wasn't expelled!




The Miracle in Brooklyn was one of the best moments of the 2016 campaign:


I don't think you necessarily have to go back to 1948 or 1800 to address the current situation in Palestine. More than half of the Palestinians living in Gaza are younger than 24. To quote Dr. Faye, "All he knows of the world is what you show him".


Not the greatest trick, but a pretty great trick, that the devil pulled, is to make you forget that worst act of terrorism against the Israeli state was perpetrated by extremist Jews (just as the worst acts of terrorism against the Indian state have been perpetrated by extremist Hindus). And to further make you forget that there's no reason the Israeli state cannot respond to Palestinian terrorism with the same proportionality, restraint and due process that it responds to Israeli terrorism.




I do think the Sanders campaign missed an opportunity to campaign with Donna Edwards and Gwen Moore, as well as John Fetterman. As for the argument that Edwards endorsed HRC, I think the Sanders campaign could have worked around that, with a simple statement from Edwards: "I like HRC, but I like Sanders as well."

I probably should confess to a liking for both Sanders and HRC, as well as PB & J (President Barack & Joe). Why I like them, couldn't tell you, since none of them are acceptable on my litmus test issues. But I do.

I'll be voting for Sanders in the primary. Probably the most clarifying moment of the primary election for me was the Kissinger discussion.

I do think, in fairness to HRC, there should be some qualifications to the assessment of her as a hawk. She was one of the few members of the American establishment willing to offer even tepid, mild criticisms of acts of terrorism against Iranian scientists, something which must have required a fair amount of moral conscientiousness and political courage. She was also a strong supporter of Richard Holbrooke, who was one of the most persistent voices in government for ending the war in Afghanistan. I believe Holbrooke's views on negotiation and reconciliation with all elements of Pashtun society, including the Taliban, were correct, and prescient.






. . .One of the Afghans Gopal spent time with was a Taliban military commander nicknamed — for his whip of choice — Mullah Cable, who offered a riveting account of just how decisive the U.S. air assault on that movement was. In recalling his days on the front lines of what, until then, had been an Afghan civil war, he described his first look at what American bombs could do: 
“He drove into the basin and turned the corner and then stepped out of the vehicle. Oh my God, he thought. There were headless torsos and torso-less arms, cooked slivers of scalp and flayed skin. The stones were crimson, the sand ocher from all the blood. Coal-black lumps of melted steel and plastic marked the remains of his friends’ vehicles. 
“Closing his eyes, he steadied himself. In the five years of fighting he had seen his share of death, but never lives disposed of so easily, so completely, so mercilessly, in mere seconds.” 
The next day, he addressed his men. “Go home,” he said. “Get yourselves away from here. Don’t contact each other.” 
“Not a soul,” writes Gopal, “protested.” 
Mullah Cable took his own advice and headed for Kabul, the Afghan capital. “If he somehow could make it out alive, he promised himself that he would abandon politics forever.” And he was typical. As Gopal reports, the Taliban quickly broke under the strain of war with the last superpower on the planet. Its foot soldiers put down their arms and, like Mullah Cable, fled for home. Its leaders began to try to surrender. In Afghan fashion, they were ready to go back to their native villages, make peace, shuffle their allegiances, and hope for better times. . . 
. . .Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on terror forever and a day.  So, as Gopal reports, they essentially refused to let the Taliban surrender.  They hounded that movement’s leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, “go back to work.”

. . .Heather is blunt in her criticism. “Hearing politicians speak about drones being precision weapons [makes it seem like they’re] able to make surgical strikes. To me it’s completely ridiculous, completely ludicrous to make these statements.”. . .
. . .“We often hear that drones can see everything by day and by night,” a different drone victim of the February 2010 strike in Uruzgan told filmmaker Kennebeck. “You can see the difference between a needle and an ant but not people? We were sitting in the pickup truck, some even on the bed. Did you not see that there were travelers, women and children?”
. . .key officials. . .undoubtedly don’t “see” women and children. Instead, they are caught up in a Hollywood-style vision of imminent danger from terrorists. . . 
That is exactly what the whistleblowers feel needs to change. “I just want people to know that not everybody is a freaking terrorist and we need to just get out of that mindset. And we just need to see these people as people — families, communities, brothers, mothers, and sisters, because that’s who they are,” says Lisa. “Imagine if this was happening to us. Imagine if our children were walking outside of the door and it was a sunny day and they were afraid because they didn’t know if today was the day that something would fall out of the sky and kill someone close to them. How would we feel?”
When assessing the accuracy of statements by various big shots on the drone bombing program, it's perhaps instructive to look at the initial Theranos board of directors:


One other point: we know that the US considered bombing Bin Laden's compound, and ultimately chose not to. We also know that in the compound there were 15+ people (most of whom were not combatants) If the ratio of targets:civilians in Bin Laden's compound was around 1:5, why should we assume other compounds are any different? And even if there was some magic technology capable of only killing Bin Laden and leaving the other  people in the compound unhurt, those people, and other people in the vicinity, would still be traumatized by the US, and all else being equal, would have a hostile view of it.

Drone bombing might be "worth it" for someone like Bin Laden, Zawahiri or KSM. It's not worth it for anything less.


an enlightening comment thread from the Independent article, which probably explains how Malik Jalal got put on the kill list:

Maybe he can explain this quote:

"Malik Jalal Sarhadi Qatkhel, head of the North Waziristan Peace Committee, told reporters at the Peshawar Press Club that the tribes would wage a jihad against the US as well as Pakistanis who are helping them carry out the Predator drone strikes. He said that they had allowed their youths to carry out suicide attacks against the Americans."

regardless of what he may have said, hunting him down in this way and killing scores of innocents in the process is a cowardly, deeply immoral and criminal activity.

Just pointing out he's not the innocent little lamb he is purporting to be.

Should they risk American soldiers lives to go get their targets?

Max Stone
Absolutely - If someone says they want to send 'youth' to suicide bomb my family, they can't then ask us to shed a tear when we stop them pre-detonation!

He didn't TELL them to wage the jihad, he's merely stating that the tribes would do it.

Alec Macpherson
We have only his word for that.  A self-confessed member of a group which machine-guns children.  "Guilty" children, presumably.

Society of the Spectacle
Sorry, are you talking about malik or the Americans ?

He did explain it: "Like others that day, I said some things I regret. I was angry, and I said we would get our revenge. But, in truth, how would we ever do such a thing? Our true frustration was that we – the elders of our villages – are now powerless to protect our people."

"they" refers to "the tribes", that not include himself as he is talking about those in third person.

Keep making excuses.
He was promoting terrorist attacks against American targets. North Waziristan was an area  known for its terrorist training camps. in 2010 and 2011. The period he talks about.

Claire Newton
The Americans are the damned terrorists! These poor people living every day with bombers circling them from above. Would you want your children to grow up like that? Never knowing when you are going to be incinerated. These people are being terrorised. I would be angry if I were them.

Society of the Spectacle
What do you expect ?
For the people to just lay down and let the USA kill them for politics and control of the Opium supply ?

What is crazy is that this stuff does not surprise anyone anymore.

typical american military strategy.from a completely dispassionate viewpoint ( i personally think this kind of air-strike is both morally reprehensible and STUPID given the pathetic accuracy) shock and awe didn't work in Vietnam, why the hell would it magically start working now?

my reply to "Henchman":

1) Malik Jalal is not, indeed, an innocent little lamb. However neither am I, and neither are you. I can accept there are many good reasons why Malik Jalal deserves to die, and why killing him would be justified. However, I also believe there are many good reasons why I deserve to die, and why killing me would be justified. And, to be honest, I believe there are many good reasons why you deserve to die, and why killing you would be justified.

2) The issue, in my opinion, is not whether Malik Jalal is an innocent, or even whether killing Malik Jalal would be justified, The issue is, is killing Malik Jalal necessary? My opinion on this is clear: Killing Malik Jalal is unnecessary, and would be counter-productive for any sensible strategic objective.

2a) I do, in fact, believe that killing Malik Jalal is unjustified, as well as unnecessary and counter-productive. I agree with commenter RedAster in the Independent thread who argued that in his appearance at the Peshawar Press Club, Malik Jalal was talking about the tribes in the third person.

When Malik Jalal said "they had allowed their youths to carry out suicide attacks against the Americans.", the "they" did not refer to himself, and he was not personally advocating suicide attacks against Americans.

3) One reason for my opinion: By the logic by which Malik Jalal was put on the kill list, it seems to me that Sarah Palin (crosshairs) and Jesse Helms ("Bill Clinton better watch out") could have been put on a kill list as well.


4) Another reason for my opinion: If the US had put every German or Japanese who had threatened revenge in response to American bombing, on a kill list, World War II would never have ended. As, indeed, this war is not ending.

I do not believe the World War II generation were more moral than our generation, or the Vietnam and Korea generation. However, I do believe they had slightly less contempt for their enemy, slightly less hubris, slightly less self-righteousness, and slightly less confidence in their ability to endlessly hit other people without eventually being hit back. This relative lack of hubris allowed them to eventually end their wars, and to make peace with former enemies, in a way that has largely eluded the US since then.










Even if you don't believe anything Malik Jalal is saying, his presence in the UK still exposes a core lie of the drone strike program: that the reason for the drone strikes is because of the logistical impossibility of arresting people. If logistics were the issue, than Malik Jalal could be arrested and tried before an independent judiciary, very quickly and safely. And if the US establishment is willing to lie about a core rationale for the drone strikes program, what else are they willing to lie about?

The people of Waziristan are no different than you, and they react to a perpetual, never-ending bombing campaign of their country no differently than how you would react.

The Afghan war seems to me to have had at least 4 expansions: 1) expanding from a war targeting Al-Qaeda into a war targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership 2) expanding from a war targeting Taliban leadership into a war targeting Taliban rank and file 3) expanding from a war targeting Taliban rank and file into a war targeting Pashtun men of military age (both in Afghanistan and Pakistan) 4) expanding from a war targeting Pashtun men into an all-out Pashtun-Tajik civil war.

At every stage there have been many advocates in the American establishment for expanding and prolonging the war, very few advocates for narrowing and shortening it.

I don't know everything, but I know successful hot wars do not last 16 years, and I know successful bombing campaigns do not last forever. So the unwillingness of drone strike strategists to ever bring their bombing campaign to an end suggests to me that these are not the strategists you are looking for.

I believe "more bombing, less terrorism" will eventually be as discredited as "more guns, less crime". I reached that point somewhere between year 10 and year 15 of the WOT. Hopefully it doesn't require 50, or even 25, years, for the WOT to end.

Krugman/Romer vs. Friedman: Integrity/Schmintegrity, Methodology/Schmethodology

I should probably confess my bias is to see Krugman/Romer as Vincent and Gerald Friedman as Jules in this conversation:


The scary question in this context being, "What if I told you we could get back to 2007 trend?"



I do think that on this topic there has been too much talk about integrity, and perhaps even too much talk about methodology, and not enough clarification (schmlerification?) of the core issues.

I think the best way to clarify this issue is to start with nominal GDP, and then move on to real GDP.

Q1. Is it possible to get back to the 2007 nominal GDP trend? (my answer: yes)

Q2. If possible, is it desirable to get back to 2007 nominal GDP trend? (my answer: yes)

Q3. If we got back to 2007 nominal trend, how much of the increased nominal GDP would be accounted for as real, how much would be accounted for as inflation? (my answer: I don't know, but while the question is interesting and important, I don't think it matters for deciding whether or not to get back to 2007 nominal trend).

This is probably one issue that Friedman can be criticized for: overestimating the extent to which expansionary policies would result in real growth, and not inflation. But his strong advocacy for expansionary policies is still very valuable, in my opinion.

Q4. Assuming there are multiple different policy approaches which could get us back to 2007 nominal trend, which approach would have the best chance of encouraging the extra nominal growth to be real, and not inflation? (my answer: I don't know, would like to know, and this seems to me one of those questions which should make the Clark medals rain.)


I think the null hypothesis policy for Q4 is helicopter drops, X% of the gap between nominal GDP and the desired nominal target.

The same gif works!


(As an aside, my estimate is that the above gif provides approximately $8 billion dollars worth of utility. It further seems to me that it would be a really good idea to use that $8 billion number in order to argue that inflation is overestimated, and to use that overestimation argument in order to argue for cutting Social Security benefits.)

I don't how much of the hysteresis arising from the the 2008 recession can be undone, but I am optimistic that some of it can. I think policymakers can demonstrate their commitment to undoing hysteresis by first endorsing something like nGDP targeting, and then endorsing a target of getting back to 2007 nominal trend.


I think one of the lessons of the anti-depression policies of Mariner Eccles is that while consistent inflation of 10%+ is a problem, one or two years of 10% inflation is not a big deal, and may even be beneficial.


My chief concern for the empirical "revolution" in economics is that sophisticated things that the data are whispering are being used, deliberately or not, to distract from unsophisticated things that the data are screaming. Among those things:

1. A dollar in the hands of a poorer person has more utility than a dollar in the hands of a richer person, especially if the poor person is stretching to buy a perceived necessity.


2. Not being able to command enough resources in order to obtain core-consumption-perceived-necessities is bad.

This seems to me to be the fundamental picture of American politics since 1978:


Note that the woman in the picture is not just being asked to take responsibility for herself, which I might agree with. She's being asked to take "Great God responsibility", which I define as "taking responsibility, without having an adequate income". I certainly couldn't manage that, and am not sure how you could, either.

3. Long-term unemployment / long-term discouragement / long-term under-employment is bad.


4. Drugs are bad. Prohibition and the prison-industrial complex are worse.


5. Theranos raised large amounts of money based on the idea of reducing fear of the needle. But it seems to me that fear of not having adequate health insurance is a far deeper, far more fundamental, far more important fear than fear of getting your blood drawn. And it's a fear that can be addressed without developing any new technology. Which should be a feature, not a bug.

I don't particularly mind Theranos getting so much news coverage, even after a technical problem worthy of attack, proved its worth by fighting back. But I feel for every article about Theranos, there should have been 10 articles about universal health care activists, where universal health care includes mental and dental.

I think one thing that might help the data "revolution" is the creation of an honor system based safety net, where people ask for how much money they think they need before some sort of Grand Poobah, as a supplement to the rules based safety net.

I think such a supplemental system could help some people, and could result in collecting some useful data.





I'm not sure whether I actually believe this, but I once wrote it:
I have to admit, my first reaction to the Reinhart-Rogoff excel error was that, at long last, we'd discovered who'd stolen Uncle Billy's money. But my considered reaction is that Reinhart-Rogoff must be defended from charges of fraud and bad faith. It was not a crime. It was merely a mistake.  
The lesson I draw is: beware of economists brandishing data. I'm more likely to believe an economist who says, "I think" this is the right policy, than an economist who says, "the data suggests" this is the right policy. Until we have economists who appreciate the difficulty of using highly imperfect data to uncover a reliable causal mechanism, and who appreciate that there are some phenomenon which are simply not amenable to the scientific method, i.e. phenomenon for which reliable causal mechanisms cannot be found in time to make a difference, we're safer with ordinary bias, and not the trumped up, aggrandized, megalomaniacal bias which comes from having "the data" on your side.
I do think Daniel Davies had a pretty good description of how data-driven approaches can degenerate: 1) No matter which way you slice the data, you get the same result. 2) No matter which way I slice the data, I get the same result. 3) Here's some data: Enjoy!

I do think Dean Baker had one of the smartest takes on Reinhart-Rogoff, and it was smart precisely because Baker focused on causal mechanisms, and not just on data analysis:

Suppose we believed the original Reinhart-Rogoff 2.9 percentage point growth falloff number. If our debt-to-GDP ratio were at 100 percent of GDP, we could sell off $3.2 trillion in assets to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down to a safe 80 percent level. This would lead to a growth dividend of more than $28 trillion over the next decade. In other words, we would be able to pocket more than 8 times the market value of these assets in the form of added growth, and that is just over the first decade. 
To my knowledge no one in public debate, including Reinhart and Rogoff, have advocated this sort of massive asset sale. Yet the payoff of more than 8 to 1, has to swamp the benefits from almost any other public policy imaginable. This seems pretty compelling evidence that no one really believes that high debt levels actually lead to slow growth.




I sort of appreciated the honesty of Marc Andreesen's initial comments on anti-colonialism, and would agree that anti-colonialism can sometimes have negative effects on policy. What I think Andreesen misses is that it can sometimes have positive effects as well. There are reasons why Indian consumers don't have to bow and scrape to the likes of Martin Shkreli, and one of those reasons is political anti-colonialism.

In India, over a dozen pharmaceutical companies manufacture and sell pyrimethamine tablets and, multiple combinations of generic pyrimethamine are available for a price ranging from US$0.04–$0.10 each (3–7 rupees)
To be honest, I see no reason why American consumers should have to bow and scrape to the likes of Martin Shkreli, either. Another of those questions which I think should make the Clark medals rain is how to fund drug research, whilst ensuring that drugs can be consumed based on their marginal cost, and up to their marginal benefit.



Incidentally, one of the issues that sunk Syriza was that they ran out of money to buy insulin and other necessities. Did they ever consider temporarily importing insulin from India?

A broad comment on situations like the Andreesen tweets, when an ubermensch lectures the masses on their ingratitude, and their ornery bad attitude bordering on uppityness: In these cases, I can forgive the ubermensch for everything except flouncing and bouncing. I can forgive them for racism, sexism, casteism, classism, fascism, objectivism, vanguardism, grammar Nazism. I can forgive the ubermensch for not being a mensch. I can even forgive the ubermensch for having been right, which is the hardest thing to forgive a person for. I can forgive them for everything except taking their ball away and going home. Most especially if it's a home in a segregated neighborhood.

What Goldman got for their money

I believe Goldman has a very strong hold on the American establishment. To use "Dinner for Schmucks" terminology, I believe they have both mind control and brain control. How strong their hold is on HRC specifically, I don't have a strong opinion.


In my view, Goldman was such a favored child of the establishment in 2008, that they not only bailed Goldman out, they did it in the least accountable way possible. The Goldman bailout was not even called the Goldman bailout. It was called the AIG bailout, even though AIG's role in the bailout was mostly bailout laundering. Slightly more accurately, it was called the AIG counter-party bailout. But if you look at the AIG counter-parties, it turns out to be Goldman and a list of Goldman's clients.


Depending on how dessicated your sense of humor is, you might enjoy Goldman's assertion in the Reuters article that they didn't need the bailout money, but took it anyway. To paraphrase King Kaiser, "Did you say that, Lloyd? What a guy!".


It does seem to me a sign of corruption in the American establishment, as well as perhaps a lack of focus on the part of the anti-establishment, that Goldman and it's clients have never been asked, even nicely, to repay the AIG counter-party bailout money that they took from the government till.

As a not-quite aside, it also seems to me a sign of corruption in the American establishment that there has not been a stronger push for repealing the 2005 bankruptcy bill, which may be the worst piece of legislation passed by the US Congress in the past 15 years, except for the Iraq war.

. . .After BAPCPA passed, although credit card company losses decreased, prices charged to customers increased, and credit card company profits soared. . .
The first student loan reforms took place in 1976 as an amendment to the Higher Education Act and required that debtors wait five years from the beginning of their repayment period, or demonstrate undue hardship, before their student loans were eligible for discharge in bankruptcy. The five year bar was later extended to seven years and in 1998, the laws were changed so that governmental student loans could never be discharged absent a showing of undue hardship. Don’t believe in slippery slope arguments? Well, buckle up. In 2005, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) made all educational loans, public and private, nondischargeable absent a showing of undue hardship (an impossible standard to meet as interpreted by courts across the country).
I think making student loans nondischargeable for 3-5 years is defensible. I think extending the nondischargeable period to 7 years is somewhat defensible logrolling on the part of finance industry lobbyists / elected shills. Extending nondischargeability beyond 7 years seems to me an action of deep evil.

For years, forgiving bankruptcy laws in the US were a signal of hope and dynamism, that you could easily shake off the wrong turnings and dead ends of the past, and pursue the opportunities of the future. I don't think the horrible bankruptcy bills of 1998 and 2005, in and of themselves, can be blamed for any bad trends of the last 20 years. There's a deal of ruin in a person, and in a nation too. What I feel confident in saying is that they haven't helped, and repealing and not replacing them would be a step in the right direction.




One reason why referring to the 2005 bankruptcy bill is not an aside: it played a significant role in worsening the 2008 financial crisis:


Jimmy C

I was reading an article I can't find in which Carter's record on pardons seemed less generous than I expected. But then I found out that they were accounting for his pardon of Vietnam draft dodgers as one pardon, which seems to me not so much dishonest as simply indifferent to the truth.






Little Talk:

I had tasted beer before, and I hadn't liked it. It was sour and sort of soapy tasting. I never understood why anybody wanted to drink it. However, in Beanbender's it seemed that holding a mug of beer in one's hand was the thing to do, so I went up to the bar and got one along with Rat and Winston and Captain Shep Nesterman. 
Beanbender's beer was nothing like the stuff in cans that my father drinks. It had a nutty taste, and it was cold and good. The guy at the bar was Ben Beanbender, the owner of the beer garden. He didn't ask us for identification or anything. He just filled mugs from a big barrel and handed them to us. I also got a baked potato. Ben Beanbender poked a hole in one end with his thumb, slapped in a hunk of butter, salted and peppered the potato, wrapped it in a napkin, and handed it to me. It was great! The potato was almost too hot to hold, and the salty butter dribbled onto my sleeve. It tasted just fantastic with the beer. The beer and the baked potato cost fifty cents. It's the best deal in Baconburg.
I've been searching for a beer that tastes the way Pinkwater describes it for more than 20 years, a beer with a "nutty taste". Haven't found it.










The Night Before Christmas
. . .In 1989 my son Tom was handed a tract issued by a nondenominational firm in Bennett, North Carolina, that bitterly denounced Santa Claus. . ."One day they'll stand before God Without their bag of tricks. Without their red-nose reindeers, or their phony Old Saint Nicks. For Revelation twenty-one, Verse eight, tells where they'll go; Condemned to everlasting hell, Where there'll be no Ho! Ho! Ho!". I'm surprised that the author of this tract failed to observe that the letters of SANTA can be rearranged to spell SATAN!. . . 
. . .This leads to a question about which I have no firm opinion. Is it good or bad to let children believe in Santa Claus? . . .If you are a secular humanist . . .you can argue that letting children swallow the myth for a brief time is good training for becoming adult skeptics about God and Jesus. 
British-born Robert Service (1875-1958), in Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, has a short poignant poem titled "The Skeptic" that goes like this: "My Father Christmas passed away When I was barely seven. At twenty-one, alack-a-day, I lost my hope of heaven. Yet not in either lies the curse: The hell of it's because I don't know which loss hurt the worse - My God or Santa Claus."
Gamaliel Bradford's essay "Santa Claus: A Psychograph" is a spirited defense of keeping the Santa myth alive among children. . ."there is a still deeper value in the preservation of the Santa Claus legend, even by those who have no faith in that or any other legend whatever. For such preservation typifies the profound principle that, sacred as both are, the law of love is higher than the law of truth, For this there is a perfectly simple and unassailable reason, that truth at its best is deceiving, but love is never. We toil and tire ourselves and sacrifice our lives for the dim goddess Truth. Then she eludes us, slips away from us, mocks at us, But love grows firmer and surer and more prevailing as the years pass by.  
Therefore, why should not young and old alike. . .echo the merry greeting of the saint, broadcast to the whole wide world: `Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.'" 
I happen to be a philosophical theist, so let me toss out a suggestion surely made before, though I have not encountered it. "Great believers," Thornton Wilder liked to say, "are great doubters". It's a poor faith that can't preserve itself in the face of evidence which seems to point toward foolishness, Perhaps allowing children to believe in Santa Claus, then later telling them that Santa doesn't exist, is a healthy preparation for adult trust in a power higher than imaginary gods and devils. A faith that can be damaged by early disenchantment over Santa Claus surely is not much of a faith.
. . .I dare not say that he is never in error; but to speak plainly I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined. The title "Inexorable Love" which I have given to several individual extracts would serve for the whole collection. Inexorability - but never the inexorability of anything less than love - runs through it like a refrain. . . 
[ 47 ] No One Loves Because He Sees Why  
Where a man does not love, the not-loving must seem rational. For no one loves because he sees why, but because he loves. No human reason can be given for the highest necessity of divinely created existence. For reasons are always from above downward.
[ 103 ] They Say It Does Them Good 
There are those even who, not believing in any ear to hear, any heart to answer, will yet pray. They say it does them good; they pray to nothing at all, but they get spiritual benefit. I will not contradict their testimony. So needful is prayer to the soul that the mere attitude of it may encourage a good mood. Verily to pray to that which is not, is in logic a folly: yet the good that, they say, comes of it, may rebuke the worse folly. . . 





I don't particularly agree that PK is an atheistic movie, though I don't think it's overly hostile to atheism. To the extent it has a viewpoint, it seems to me just plain theism.


next post: 4/17/2017