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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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

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
In Hindu mythology, there's a character called Kumbhakarna, who sleeps for 6 months, then eats for 6 months. Below, my Kumbhakarnian post. Read on if you have the slightest desire:






Big Talk:

1. Don't Kill People


. . .the former drone operators argue that the strategy is self-defeating, as the high number of civilian casualties and the callousness of drone killings merely propagates anti-US hatred. “Right now it seems politically expedient,” said Cian Westmoreland. “But in the long term the bad side of a Hellfire missile and drones buzzing overhead is the only thing that a lot of these people know of the United States or Britain.”
Bryant accepted that there was no negotiating with extreme, violent terrorists of the type that carried out the Paris attacks. “But you have to prevent such people being created,” he said. “We validate them, we keep this cycle going. Their children are afraid to play out in the sun because that’s when the drones are coming.
Certainly, there is zero evidence that 15 years of the WOT has made the American people either subjectively or objectively safer. Since time immemorial, the state of the WOT has been that tremendous progress had been made, but that victory is at least 6 months / 2 years / 5 years away. If, that is, one is so gauche and unsophisticated as to make any references to "victory". I'd be interested in how the length of the WOTFU has evolved over the years.

I don't have a problem with using drone strikes as a weapon of hot war, for a war fought for a limited, definable objective, such as the capturing of land. I do have a problem with using drone strikes as a weapon of peace or of cold war, or for wars fought on the basis of never-ending, unachievable objectives, such as the current WOT.

A war fought with the strategy of "killing bad guys" can never end successfully, because all of us are a mixture of good and bad.

Lightly paraphrased Jeb Bush: "One thing's for sure about my brother, he kept us safe. . .Don't you remember the rubble?"

Lightly paraphrased Obama: "We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be hunted down fanatically and killed".

Who are the "them"? ISIS? ISIL? How many of the people we have killed over the past 15 years have had ISIS or ISIL tattooed on their butts? I remember too many different "thems" over the past 15 years, demonstrating that no one in power actually cares who the "them" is, as long as they provide an excuse for prolonging the war. Why they want to prolong the war, I don't know, but my guess is that if the war ever ended, they might eventually be forced to make an honest reckoning of what 15+ years of war have accomplished, and what they haven't.

Rajkumar Hirani, who directed the movie further adds, "We have not done anything for which people can tell we have deliberately hurt anyone's religious sentiments. The core idea of the film is just that we are not born with a birthmark proclaiming we are Hindus or Muslims or Sikhs or Christians. 

What does the iCasualties data say to you? What it says to me is that while the Iraq war is the worst American policy mistake since the Vietnam war, the Afghan surge is second place. And while there has been has been at least some attempt at accountability for the Iraq war, there has been zero accountability for the Afghan surge. The biggest problem I had with the Vox foreign policy interview with Obama is that there were zero questions on the drone war, and zero questions on the Afghan surge, which seem to me two of Obama's biggest foreign policy mistakes.



I don't think I have any special desire to criticize Obama, but in this case I don't think I have a choice. One of my disagreements with Obama is that I think 15 years of the War on Terror has produced pretty strong evidence that "they" don't need to be "hunted" and killed. I think the old fashioned remedy of capture, arrest & trial by an independent judiciary has proved far superior to the modern innovation of holding a classified coffee klatch, followed by pressing a button.

I also appreciate, too late, the wisdom of Paul Rosenberg, when he wrote that "It's not possible to win a War On Terror, because War is Terror".  

I advocate a race-neutral and cause-neutral based approach to mass shootings. Obviously you don't become a mass shooter unless something is chapping your ass, but I don't think the cause of enchapment, whether it's annoying dot heads, annoying bitches, annoying tax collectors, or annoying Israelis, fundamentally matters.

It also seems worth noting that, bad as ISIS is, ASAS, the American State of Ammo-Sexuals, has killed a lot more Americans, and captured a lot more American territory, than ISIS ever has, or will.

So while it is probably smart to take prudent steps to reduce the danger of ASAS and ISIS both, tactics which would be too extreme for fighting ASAS are also too extreme for fighting ISIS.

For the most effective strategies for fighting ISIS, I would consult young Sunni Muslims, both female and male. Riverbend or Kerem Nachar might be good people to start with.

Charles Petzold on 9/11 and the efficacy of bombing, whether through drone strikes or any other method:



I think Petzold may be too generous to drone strike advocates. "Killing one to save many is an exceptionally simple moral equation. But. . .", he writes, but there is zero evidence that these strikes are saving anybody. Hatred toward Americans, and desire to kill them, has increased in every region where drone strikes have been implemented. It's hard to understand how anybody ever thought it could be otherwise.




Faheem Qureshi’s uncles sat with their neighbors, chatting, cracking jokes and sipping tea, in their family’s lounge for male guests. Qureshi, almost 14, stood nearby, bored and restless, thinking about when he could go to the nearby playground where he and the other Ziraki village kids played badminton and cricket.
It had been a long day – Friday prayers, a food shopping errand at his mother’s behest, hosting – but also a happy occasion, as people stopped by to welcome an uncle home to North Waziristan, in tribal Pakistan, from a work excursion to the United Arab Emirates. Then he heard a sound like a plane taking off.
About two seconds later, the missile punched a hole through the lounge. Qureshi remembers feeling like his body was on fire. He ran outside, wanting to throw water on his face, but his priority was escape. The boy could not see.
This was the hidden civilian damage from the first drone strike Barack Obama ever ordered, on 23 January 2009, the inauguration of a counter-terrorism tactic likely to define Obama’s presidency in much of the Muslim world. It was the third day of his presidency.
 Reportedly, the strikes did not hit the Taliban target Obama and the Central Intelligence Agency sought. . .
Even if the drone strike had hit the Taliban target they sought, there is zero evidence, and zero reason to believe, that it would have made Americans any safer. There are a handful of targets that might justify drone strikes: Bin Laden, KSM, Zarqawi, Zawahiri. And even in those cases, capture and arrest would be far preferable to special forces killing, special forces killing would be far preferable to drone strike. For every drone strike other than those 4 targets, the harms have greatly exceeded the benefits, if there are benefits, which I doubt.

Zawahiri might have been more responsible than even Bin Laden for 9/11. Yet the WOT has become so diffuse and sprawling that we don't even remember him, and don't even remember that he hasn't been caught.

I don't like the Obama-centric framing of the Ackerman article. Obama's presidency will soon be over, but the WOT, apparently, will not. Nor does the national security establishment have any plans to ever end it, it now appears.


Even if the strike hadn't killed civilians, there is still zero evidence, and zero reason to believe, it would have made Americans any safer.

3. There was a CIA annex near the consulate, and it included former special ops guys that consular officials including Stevens saw as the “cavalry.” That group of operatives did play an important role in getting the remaining 55 consular personnel out of Benghazi but in the end could not protect Stevens. CIA safe houses are covert. The Senate report makes clear that the US military was not apprised of its existence. Very likely, Secretary Clinton was not told about it either. If she was not told the details of what security arrangements were in place, she would have had no basis for questioning them. That there was something covert about the entire US operation in Benghazi seems clear, which means that then CIA director David Petraeus was probably more involved than Hillary was, but the GOP never brings him up with regard to Benghazi.
Add Benghazi to the list of disasters (9/11 , the Iraq war, the Afghan surge, drone strikes) caused in part by too much infosec, and too much reverence for classified information, not too little.

This excerpt from David A. Westbrook's column seems to me one of the truest things said about Libya:

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.
This is not to say that half-measures might not be appropriate in certain circumstances. But half-measures are not the same as a policy which blithely assumes we can kill forever without eventually being killed ourselves.


Westbrook's rule of thumb also seems to me relevant to the chronic, long-term, addictive and habit-forming use of drone strikes, which seem to me to have long ago escalated from use to abuse. Drone strikes, and the Sisyphean obsession with kill/capture lists, seem to me to have become the opiate of the national security establishment.

I think if the current establishment had been fighting WWII, they would be drone-bombing neo-Nazis 50 years after Pearl Harbor, while still issuing unctuous, Eddie-Haskellish pronouncements about criticizing them in A Time Of War.  I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that after telling us "10 months or 10 years", they're not willing to stop even after 10 years.

I understand the argument about having duties to the Afghan/Iraqi peoples. But that implies only staying to carry out actions requested by the Afghan/Iraqi peoples, subject to negotiation that they not ask for grandiose, unattainable things. That's not current policy.


It's fashionable to blame Bowe Bergdahl for the enormous resources devoted by American planners to finding him. But if patterns of American activity in Afghanistan were completely disrupted because one soldier reached his breaking point one day and went walkabout, doesn't that suggest that there was never much coherent strategic thinking behind those patterns of activity in the first place? If American commanders found it so easy to shift resources from their other missions into finding Bowe Bergdahl, mightn't one reason for that be that finding Bowe Bergdahl, unlike their other missions, was a mission that actually made sense?



At this point, the state of the war on terror seems to me similar to the state of the old communist factory: we pretend to support them, and they pretend the war makes sense.



I think Clark has a duty to explain why he didn't call for such camps after the Oklahoma city bombings, or other mass shootings which didn't fit the profile.

I view Clark's 2007 interview with Amy Goodman as, first of all, a warning to have an appropriate hatred of bombing, whether it be terrorist bombs of evil and terror, or our bombs of freedom and love. Second, a warning to not be ok with a never-ending, perpetual state of war, devoid of any strategy for victory or a way out.

. . .this is why I say you must use force only as a last resort.
I told this story to the high school kids earlier, but it bears repeating, I guess. We had a malfunction with a cluster bomb unit, and a couple of grenades fell on a schoolyard, and some, I think three, schoolchildren were killed in Nish. And two weeks later, I got a letter from a Serb grandfather. He said, "You’ve killed my granddaughter." He said, "I hate you for this, and I’ll kill you." . . .And that’s why you shouldn’t undertake military operations unless every other alternative has been exhausted, because innocent people do die.
I don't agree with Clark's limiting the evil of war only to "innocent people". Some of us guilty, or even partially guilty, people, would like not to die in a war, as well.  It seems to me significant that in Kosovo, the bad guys weren't killed.


2. Don't Jail People


The Chelsea Manning jailing has become a litmus test issue for me. I'm not willing to endorse any person or organization who's not willing to say about Chelsea Manning, "35 years is too much". I'm not willing to endorse any person or organization who's not willing to say, "What Chelsea Manning did is not worse than what the Abu Graibh torturers did, and she should not be punished more harshly than they were."



I have not been appropriately appreciative of the Iran deal, perhaps because I, like all humans, find it hard to sufficiently appreciate leaders who quietly and without fuss avoid a disaster. Gordon Brown, for example, gets no credit for avoiding the Euro disaster, while I think he deserves at least some. I have also been unable to accept one of the implicit premises of the deal, that it's worth going to war to prevent Iran going nuclear. I think the logic of MAD works as well for Iran as it does for any of the nuclear weapons 9 (5 + Pakistan, Israel, North Korea & India).

But the freeing of the American prisoners in Iran is a big deal to me, as is the release of Bowe Bergdahl. I thank everyone involved for not caving in to the taunts of appeasement or treason, and getting these people home.



3. Less Fear

(Via https://twitter.com/Blackamazon): https://twitter.com/hashtag/FlintWaterCrisis?src=hash



George Orwell - Don't Fear The Sacker

While I can't accept the implicit tolerance of slavery in the Orwell piece, I think it points to one thing lacking in contemporary America, something like the Homestead Act, which would give the modern day peasant the ability to avoid being frightened of the sack, and the freedom to punch gently poke their boss in the eye and move out West.


To me the modern-day equivalent of the Homestead Act sounds like the UBI or the job-guarantee. I find it too hard to care about the differences between them, when neither is endorsed by a single politician that I know of. I find both perfectly acceptable, and my preference is probably for a UBI. My path forward at the moment toward a UBI is nothing more, though nothing less, than what I once read an Indian girl offer as her solution to 50% illiteracy: "Every one teach one". That is, every one with an income above the UBI help at least one person with an income below the UBI get over the line.




I support the right to assisted suicide, I think. But I don't think I would ever advocate it for myself or for a family member I had to make decisions for. I think if I was of sound mind, I would still consider life worthwhile, even if I had an unsound, painful, body. And if I was of unsound mind, it would no longer be my decision. My limited experience with dying is that even when the dying lose their ability to communicate with the outside world, there is still at least some sentience, and those last hours in our present mortal form are still precious and meaningful.







note: there are some instances of obscene racism in the Pilgrim's Regress.



4. More Freedom

Comments on macro:


Didn't understand much of the Cochrane post, but the fact he does not address the downward nominal wage rigidity argument seems to me baffling:


In terms of macro policy, FWIW, I think I agree with the helicopter money people. That is, I think there is a difference between increasing reserves and helicopter-money, and that helicopter-money would not have pushed on a string in the way that increased reserves did.


re: Ari's comments on private sector debt, I am surprised there's not been more discussion of the possible macroeconomic benefits of easy bankruptcy, both as a way of deleveraging more quickly, and as a way of inhibiting bubbles, by encouraging lenders to pay more attention to whom they're lending to. It seems to me there's been hardly any discussion about repealing the 2005 bankruptcy reform, or the previous reforms which made it harder to discharge student loan debt, or medical debt. It seems to me one overlooked historical advantage of the American economy has been easy bankruptcy, and that suicide rates are linked both to unemployment/discouragement and to harsh bankruptcy laws.

Easier bankruptcy may lead to higher interest rates, but a tradeoff of making debt more expensive in good times but easier to slough off in bad times seems to me beneficial.

Comments on RBC:


I actually might agree with a weak form of RBC, if you define "technological slowdown" as "increased difficulty of check-receivers in making persuasive arguments why check-signers should sign them a check". e.g. in 1998 you can make a persuasive argument why a check-signer should sign a check for your .com. In 2002, not so much. in 2003, you can make a persuasive case why a check-signer should sign a check for your mortgage. In 2007, not so much.

The problem with defining "technological slowdown" in this way is that it suggests an obvious role for policy in ending the "technological slowdown" by signing some checks in place of the customary check-signers.

Check-signer, check-signer, sign me a check. . .

Also: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgoB2JMEowc

Perhaps the definition of an economy in trouble is one in which the reasons why people are signing checks are based on wrong-headed, unrealizable expectations.

More wrong-headed and unrealizable than usual, I mean.

I'm actually always on the lookout for issues to disagree with Krugman on. One of those, apparently, is helicopter money:


I guess my disagreement with Krugman is that the difference between helicopter money and ordinary fiscal stimulus is that helicopter money stimulates without increasing the risk of insolvency, or the risk of greater debt servicing.

I am slightly pleased that Summers & Co. are critiquing Yellen from the left, and I agree with their criticisms, but to me it feels a bit like the debate between the UBI and the job-guarantee.

The 4 macro issues I care most about:

1) Helicopter money. Perhaps a less confrontational way of saying this is that I want a form of stimulus which is not biased toward the interest-rate sensitive sectors of the economy. I.e., helicopter money.

2) Easy Bankruptcy. I live in hope that the next Al Gore bestseller is "Sane Bankruptcy, Sensible Deleveraging". As I've said before, the lack of advocacy for repealing the 2005 bankruptcy act is astonishing to me.




I don't particularly like the Obama-centric framing of the above articles. It's not Obama, it's the whole political class, of both parties. Still, when reading the Natalie Kitroeff piece about the Robert Murphy case, I thought of Michael Kinsley's comment on George H.W. Bush: "What the hell else is the point of being nice and being President at the same time?"

To put the case for bankruptcy reform in as non-confrontational a way as possible: Students take out loans for higher education based on certain expectations of what higher education will do for them. When those expectations are not met, it seems to me the losses should be split between the lenders, the borrowers, the schools and the government which made a (wrong, IMO) choice to encourage financing higher ed via debt. Instead, because of progressively harsher bankruptcy laws passed over the last 30 years, the losses are falling entirely on the students.

I think what should be done on student loans is that the establishment should recognize that the era of debt-financed higher ed was probably a mistake, and it should remove the special bankruptcy provisions for student loan debt. Then the Fed should buy non-performing legacy student loans from the private sector at face value, and institute much gentler policies of debt collection, giving every student-loan debtor the chance to pay based on income.


Probably the worst thing you can say about student loan debt is that it encourages a non-Puddleglum like view of the world.

Steve Ballmer - Deleveraging Deleveraging Deleveraging Deleveraging

3. Postal Banking.





4. TRIPS - Treasury Retiree Inflation Protected Securities. An inflation-protected savings vehicle based on the retiree basket of goods, and not the general consumer basket.


This Bob Solow quote seems to me even more important than the Napolean and the Notre Dame Fight Song quotes:
. . .Now you could ask, why do not prices and wages erode and crumble under those circumstances? Why doesn’t the unemployed worker who told me “Yes, I would like to work, at the going wage, at the old job that my brother-in-law or my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law is still holding”, why doesn’t that person offer to work at that job for less? Indeed why doesn’t the employer try to encourage wage reduction? That doesn’t happen either. Why does the Chrysler Corporation not cut the price? Those are questions that I think an adult person might spend a lifetime studying. They are important and serious questions, but the notion that the excess supply is not there strikes me as utterly implausible.

I think this might be a strong candidate for the blog post I am most ashamed of:


It was a post that was both lazy and mean, which is not a good combination. The intellectual laziness consists in making the assumption that the deficit spending under the Bush presidency was crowding out other spending, and particularly investment spending (both public and private). In fact, there is zero evidence that Bush-era deficit spending crowded out other spending. The positive effects on the balance sheet swamped any effect of higher interest rates, which were never, in fact, very high.

Not so incidentally, this seems to me to be true of the Obama presidency as well. If there had been less deficit spending during the Obama presidency, it seems to me that other spending, and total investment spending, would have been lower during the Obama presidency than was the case, not higher.

Regarding the Jeb Bush 4% controversy, would it be so outlandish to think. . . Jeb Bush might endorse NGDP targeting? Surely it's worth a shot for him to do this?

There don't seem to be too many blog posts linking Jeb Bush, 4%, and NGDP:





One idea I might as well throw out: linking a region's minimum wage to the price of starter homes within that region. I guess the idea is that it provides an incentive for a region's policy makers / employers to provide more cheap starter housing.



This George Orwell excerpt seems to me useful in understanding the benefits, dangers, and limits of philanthropy:
Outside the church quite a hundred men were waiting, dirty types who had gathered from far and wide at the news of a free tea, like kites round a dead buffalo. . .There was to be a service after the tea, and the regular congregation were sitting in the well of the church below. It was a week-day, and there were only a few dozen of them. . .We ranged ourselves in the gallery pews and were given our tea; it was a one-pound jam-jar of tea each, with six slices of bread and margarine. As soon as tea was over, a dozen tramps who had stationed themselves near the door bolted to avoid the service; the rest stayed, less from gratitude than lacking the cheek to go.
 . . .All round the gallery men lolled in their pews, laughed, chattered, leaned over and flicked pellets of bread among the congregation. . .A ring of dirty, hairy faces grinned down from the gallery, openly jeering. What could a few women and old men do against a hundred hostile tramps? . . .
The minister was a brave man. He thundered steadily through a long sermon on Joshua, and managed almost to ignore the sniggers and chattering from above. But in the end, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he announced loudly:
'I shall address the last five minutes of my sermon to the unsaved sinners!'
. . .Even while the minister was threatening hell fire, we were rolling cigarettes, and at the last amen we clattered down the stairs with a yell. . .
 The scene had interested me. It was so different from the ordinary demeanour of tramps - from the abject worm-like gratitude with which they normally accept charity. . .
At half past eight Paddy took me to the Embankment, where a clergyman was known to distribute meal tickets once a week. Under Charing Cross Bridge fifty men were waiting, mirrored in the shivering puddles. Some of them were truly appalling specimens—they were Embankment sleepers, and the Embankment dredges up worse types than the spike. One of them, I remember, was dressed in an overcoat without buttons, laced up with rope, a pair of ragged trousers, and boots exposing his toes - not a rag else. He was bearded like a fakir, and he had managed to streak his chest and shoulders with some horrible black filth resembling train oil. What one could see of his face under the dirt and hair was bleached white as paper by some malignant disease. I heard him speak, and he had a goodish accent, as of a clerk or shop walker.
Presently the clergyman appeared and the men ranged themselves in a queue in the order in which they had arrived. The clergyman was a nice, chubby, youngish man, and, curiously enough, very like Charlie, my friend in Paris. He was shy and embarrassed, and did not speak except for a brief good evening; he simply hurried down the line of men, thrusting a ticket upon each, and not waiting to be thanked. The consequence was that, for once, there was genuine gratitude, and everyone said that the clergyman was a good feller. Someone (in his hearing, I believe) called out: 'Well, he'll never be a bishop!' - this, of course, intended as a warm compliment.
The tickets were worth sixpence each, and were directed to an eating-house not far away. When we got there we found that the proprietor, knowing that the tramps could not go elsewhere, was cheating by only giving four pennyworth of food for each ticket. Paddy and I pooled our tickets, and received food which we could have got for sevenpence or eightpence at most coffee-shops. The clergyman had distributed well over a pound in tickets, so that the proprietor was evidently swindling the tramps to the tune of seven shillings or more a week. This kind of victimization is a regular part of a tramp's life, and it will go on as long as people continue to give meal tickets instead of money.
My earnest wish for all of you is that you respond to the charitable endeavors of your richers and your betters with neither jeering hostility nor abject worm-like gratitude. I do confess myself slightly gobsmacked by the ability of rich people to find causes to support other than "giving money to people who don't have enough of it".


Somewhat related to this topic, I went on a tour of the Winchester Mystery House a few months ago, and hypothesized to the assembled audience (my sister and BIL) that the first psychic that Sarah Winchester consulted, who counseled her to "Appease the souls of Winchester rifle victims by selling all thou hast and giving it to the poor" was quickly replaced by a second psychic, who counseled her to "Appease the souls of Winchester rifle victims by building a never-ending mansion."

One thing I use to assess liberal pundits at the moment is whether they discuss, not the headline unemployment number, but labor force participation rates. Krugman has been pretty disappointing by this metric, with the possible exception of his Dec. 7th column:


I don't particularly agree with the "open season on Sanders" argument. I think the Sanders' press has been better than I expected, perhaps partly due to Sanders' personal qualities. But the economics in Baker's post seems to me important. I'm not sure if the centrist / center-left "Why are people so angry? The state of the union is so strong!" commentators are sincere. But if they are sincere, read the economics in the Baker post to understand why, for some people, it doesn't feel like a strong economy, filled with some potential opportunities, some hopes for the future, some protections against downside risk and some protections against worst-case scenarios.

Those familiar with economic data know the labor market, which is the economy for the vast majority of the public, is very far from recovering from the recession. While the unemployment rate is reasonably low, this is largely because millions of workers have dropped out of the workforce. 
And, contrary to what is often asserted, these are not retiring baby boomers or people without the skills needed in a modern economy. The employment rate of prime age workers (ages 25–54) is still down by 3.0 percentage points from its pre-recession level. Furthermore, this drop is for workers at all levels of educational attainment. Employment rates are even down for workers with college and advanced degrees. Other measures of labor market strength, like the percentage of people involuntarily working part-time, the quit rate, and the duration of unemployment spells are all still at recession levels. 
Furthermore, the huge shift from wages to profits that we saw in the downturn has not been reversed. As a result, wages are more than 6.0 percent lower than they would be if the labor share had not changed.




40 acres and a bunch of educated fools


I haven't commented on Coates's reparations essay, perhaps because I wasn't sure what I thought, and to the extent I was sure what I thought, I wasn't too impressed. But I should probably get it down.

My initial reaction to the idea of reparations was slightly to moderately negative. Other than possible aversive racism, I think I can identify 4 strands of opposition:


1) Thomas Sowell-style opposition to cosmic justice activism. "Far worse than unfairness is make-believe fairness". This seems to me an invalid reason for opposing reparations. I think Sowell makes a strong case for pursuing cosmic justice with more humility and less hatred. I don't buy his case for not pursuing it at all.


2) The Coates essay implicitly links the case for reparations to active malice against black people. But I think passive indifference does as much damage, if not more, than active malice. It's true they sometimes send you to jail for active malice, which they don't usually do for passive indifference, but I don't think this matters as much as we think. This seems to me a valid reason, not to oppose reparations, but to distrust reparations as the sole or primary avenue of progress.

. . .Talking about his own relatively modest roots, Checchi noted that his success was not hindered by racism. Pointing to his right hand, he said, "If this was a different color, would they have lent me $4 billion to buy an airline?"
Winning applause and "amens," Checchi said he will support affirmative action until discrimination disappears. . .
Somewhat related to this, it seems to me important to realize that the market, in theory and sometimes in practice, punishes employer racism. It does not punish customer racism, even in theory.

3) It's a fairly fundamental part of my nature to care a great deal about everyone having enough, and not to care too much about who has more than enough. This seems to me an invalid reason to oppose reparations. Even if you want money to be less important and less prominent as time goes on, as opposed to the meritocrats' desire for money to be more important and more meaningful as time goes on, there seems to me zero reason to start the social democrat revolution on the backs of slavery victims.

4) It seems to me healthy to think partly of other peoples' / the universe's omissions and commissions (hurt), and partly of our own omissions and commissions (guilt). We fear plunging into the reparations milieu in part because we fear a suffocating emotional environment where it's all hurt and no guilt, or alternatively, all guilt and no hurt. This seems to me an invalid reason to oppose reparations. Reparations may, indeed, be one of the best ways of fighting a mental atmosphere of too much guilt and not enough hurt, or vice-versa. "Nothing is ever settled until it is settled right".


Amid all the uncertainties, at least one thing seems clear to me: it would have been better if the radical republicans had broken up the plantations and distributed a substantial portion of them to the freed slaves. So one possible path forward is to guess what the modern-day wealth distribution would have been if that had been done, and identify policies that would, eventually, get us to converge to that path. Perhaps spending x money each year buying plantation land, and then using it to increase black wealth.

Since I have no idea what x should be, this is what I meant by "not being too impressed with my thoughts."

I also think those who oppose slavery / jim crow / real estate discrimination / real estate terrorism reparations should identify the difference between slavery reparations and Holocaust and Japanese-American internment reparations. Coates's discussion of Holocaust reparations was a completely unknown history to me.

re: the Sanders-Coates debate, I think Coates is right that Sanders, more than most politicians, is pulling a fast one when he pleads political realism. However, there is a difference between reparations and Sanders' platform: Sanders' platform contains policies somewhat popular among the 99%, while being unpopular with the 0.1%. It does not contain policies, such as reparations or foreign aid, very unpopular with the 99%. If you accept Sanders' rationale for not supporting reparations (I'm not sure I do), Coates's question to lefties about when exactly they will be ready to address white / anti-black supremacism deserves an answer.

Little Talk:

A transcript of a talk I gave circa April 2014. I was planing to post this after Easter 2017, but as it turns out, there is, um, no reason to wait that long. Suffice to say it was given to an audience somewhat familiar with and interested in the world of Korean TV manufacturing:

5 Minutes With

1. He Was A Quiet Man

So, one day at work, It's kind of shocking to me that it was almost two years ago, I was reading a news story about a gun tragedy, and part of the story was interviews with neighbours and acquaintances:

"He was quiet"
"Kept to himself"
"Never knew what he was thinking"
"Didn't wave from the driveway"
"Talked to himself"
"Sometimes smiled at odd and inappropriate moments"

All of these traits apply to me, to some extent, and I got slightly annoyed at the news report's cliched description of lone wolves, and started ranting that just once, I wished that the description of the villain were something other than "quiet". Perhaps something like:

"He was an excellent salsa dancer"
"He worked hard and played harder"
"He was a wine Connoisseur and an amateur Sous-Chef"

Traits that clearly have nothing to do with me.

Well, Jason heard my rant, and informed me that there was in fact a movie, "He was a quiet man", starring Christian Slater, and of course, the movie is about a man who spends all his time being quiet and plotting his revenge.

2. The Real Danger Of Quiet People

Now, the real danger of quiet people, as all quiet people know, is not that they will suddenly snap one day and go on a rampage. The real danger of quiet people is that once they start talking, it's hard to get them to stop. So that's the danger that all of you are running today. I'll try to keep it short.

3. Quiet American?

I'm mostly American, and have lived almost all of my life in the Bay Area, with one exception. I was born here, and went to school here till I was 11, when my parents [these are my parents] whisked my sister and me [this is my sister and me] off to India to live in Bangalore and go to this school, The Valley School. I went to TVS for five years, till the 10th grade, and then came back to the Bay Area for the last 2 years of high school, and eventually college.

The picture is for my mom’s 65th birthday, and you might notice my sister has thoughtfully provided 1 and 8 for the birthday numerals.

3 points about living in India:

A. On first going to India, I made the same mistake Henry made, saying "Punjab" (rhymes with Moonjab) instead of "Punjab" (rhymes with Funjab). This led to me almost getting in a fight with a very, very mild-mannered classmate who thought I was insulting him by deliberately mispronouncing Punjab, until eventually I pled American.

B. The Indian school year runs from June to March, the American school year runs from September to June.  So when I went to India, I had no summer vacation, which for an 11 year old is a deep injustice, and when I came back from India I had a 6-month summer vacation, which for a 16 year old is probably an invitation to trouble. Probably these 6 months gave me a taste for freedom that is hard to shake off.

C. If the Bay Area school scene ever becomes too ridiculous, shipping the kids off to school in the Old Country remains a viable option. If you don't have an Old Country, even better, you can shop around and be selective.

4. Sports, Maths, Laughs + A Clearer Conscience

A few years back I started wondering whether I had a core, and if so, where was it. And finally I decided it was in 4 things: Sports, Maths, Laughs + A Clearer Conscience.

Sports: I love sports; cricket and tennis are my favorites. Now that I have what the Chinese call an "Iron Rice Bowl" (FTE status), I plan on occasionally renting a tennis court yonder Great America Park Way, and seeing if anyone else in SVL wants to play. I may also decide eventually to fight, for my right, to Ping-Pong, at which point I will probably be informed that there are no Ping-Pong rights, only Ping-Pong privileges.

In terms of TV, I live mainly on the cricket and tennis channels. I have both the cable premium channels, and the web streaming subscriptions, which seems ridiculously excessive. The future of TV, for me, would mean, in the short term, being able to choose which cricket or tennis match I was watching, and in particular to watch the web streaming stuff on my TV. In the long-term, it would probably mean being able to watch super-local matches, television-quality video of school matches, or amateur club matches.

Because of my absurd love for sports, I can inform the [blah blah] people of one use case they overlooked: Taking your racket or your bat and admiring your wonderful backhand technique, or your wonderful technique in leaving the ball outside off stump. Alas, while I have done that in my lifetime, I wouldn't recommend it. My experience is that problems on the field or on the court have to be worked out on the field or on the court, and practicing your technique in front of a mirror is not going to get you very far.

Maths: I love Math, and for me, an ideal day would probably start with sports, and move on to math. Coding is a quite acceptable substitute for math. The pleasure of coding is quite similar to the pleasure of working on math sums. The pleasure of working on EULA, however, I must admit, is not quite as keen.

Perhaps there’s not much to say about Math to a room of UX people, except this. We all of us in this room, except Greg, probably have had some sort of traumatic experience of doing badly in a math class. I certainly had those experiences but at some point after school was over I realized I really enjoyed math, and just because I may not be able to do it at a super-advanced level, does not mean I shouldn’t do it. I sometimes feel like there’s dignified adult hobbies like yachting or wine-connoisseurship and undignified hobbies like messing around with sums, I’m definitely on the side of being undignified.

One other thing that intrigues me about mathematicians is that they tend to be more religious than scientists, possibly because they’re more open to accepting beautiful axioms on faith, and without evidence from the material world. Martin Gardner, one of my favorite authors, fits this pattern of a theist and a math person. I started reading Gardner in 2010, after he died and I was intrigued by his obit. I definitely would have liked to send Gardner a letter thanking him for his books, but since he was 94 going on 95 when he died, I’m not sure how long I could have expected him to hang on.

Laughs: My view of the world is essentially comic, and I basically have 2 modes: The first is comic and joking, the second is pious and painfully earnest, what my Dad calls my "Mother In Law mode". (He will tell me, "Don't look at me as if you're my Mother In Law"). In talking about comedy, I’ll start with a list of Larry Gonick books, because I think the books are very good, and they don’t seem to me to be that famous. I also mention the Gonick books because in one of the volumes, there’s a panel that tells the story of a Chinese peasant, who makes a wisecrack about a military general, and whose punishment is to be boiled alive. This anonymous Chinese peasant is a real hero to me, and if I were to ever make a wisecrack so annoying to someone in power that I was to be boiled alive, a part of me would be pleased: the part of me that is not being boiled alive. Very unlikely to happen, unless I move to North Korea.

A Clearer Conscience: One of my favorite quotes is from the book/TV show, "Yes Prime Minister":  "He wanted, he said, a clear conscience. I found myself wondering when he acquired this taste for luxuries."

A clear conscience is, I agree, difficult and perhaps expensive to acquire, and while I may not yet be able to live in Conscience-Land, I at least want to start making serious preparations for the down payment.

I've brought the Gonick and Yes Prime Minister books to work, in case anyone wants to take a look.

One tiny manifestation of conscience is that I studied economics in school, in part because I wanted to know about poverty and unemployment, and how to avoid them. To conclude, I want to bring your attention to 2 economics books, which are recently published, and getting lots of praise, and they are:

1) "Why Nations Fail" by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, which opens with a story of 2 Korean brothers separated by the Korean War, who were reunited after 50 years, with one brother living like a South Korean, the other brother living like a North Korean. So to some extent the cutting edge in economics research is studying the past 60 years of Korean history, and saying, "Do like the South Koreans, not like the North Koreans".

2) "Poor Economics", by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, which, among other things, has a discussion of TV in the lives of poor people.

Half relevant to the discussion of TV in peoples’ lives, I actually remember a funny incident at work of Keith first encountering the statistics on how much TV Americans watch, but I think I’ll save that for if I ever have to do this again. [I won't]

next post: 5/24/2016