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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Saturday, February 19, 2011
Arthur Silber - For Moments Like This...

. . .Much of what I've described above concerning my daily life is extremely unpleasant. So I look for those precious moments that allow me to feel, "Yes, it's all worth it ... if only to experience this." On very rare occasions, I feel something akin to that when I've managed to put an article together in a way that approaches what I had envisioned. But much more often, as is true for many people, I find such moments in art. Since opera has been hugely significant in my life, I'm likely to find those moments in especially cherished performances -- such as this one. . .

Arthur Silber - For Maria Callas, Now and Always: All Things Are Connected

Arthur Silber - A Morning's Mild Diversion, and Becoming Artists Unto Ourselves

Chris Floyd is offering a series of excellent articles about Egypt. One aspect of these events is greatly inspiring and hopeful, and it is one for which I feel endless gratitude: by means of their deep understanding of and unyielding, consistent adherence to non-violence, the protesters have given the world an invaluable and desperately needed lesson in how powerful non-violence can be. Yes, it's true that the military remains in control. . .

. . .the military is at least saying that they plan to turn power over to a democratically elected government at an early date, and a number of comments from protesters indicate that the protesters themselves view Mubarak's departure as only the beginning of their work.

comment to Kevin Drum's "Good Spy, Bad Spy"

"The essential point is that any nation that steals American defense or intelligence secrets does serious damage to our nation"

Depends on the secrets and the circumstances. Most leaks of defense & intelligence secrets aren't, and shouldn't, be prosecuted. I don't know where this idea came from that executors of the law, like prosecutors, should be robots, blindly following the letter of the law without the least traces of proportion, priorities, or common sense, but its an idea that has done tremendous damage, IMO.

So yes, free Jonathan Pollard, already. If freeing him improves the chances of peace by 0.000000001 %, it's still worth it. And treat victimless crimes as leniently as possible, focusing instead first on violent crimes, then on crimes that directly harm people. In Bradley Manning's case: if he is convicted, give him a small fraction of the sentence that was given to Charles Graner.

Berkeley Political Economy Colloquium: February 18, 2011: "Austerity"

The highlight for me was probably the discussion starting at ~ 45:00 about where the jobs of the future will come from.

How did the GOP get so radical on contraception?

Matt Yglesias has had some interesting posts on college affordability. My uninformed opinions:

A market that seems to work well is the restaurant business, where in the US you can spend $1, $10, $100, or a $1000 dollars for a single meal, and leave the table with a feeling that you've gotten good value for money. The (unattainable) ideal to strive for is that all markets would work as well as the market for restaurants.

5 reasons to go to a college: 1) a credential 2) to learn something 3) to acquire tangible proof you have learned something 4) to have a great college experience 5) to become a member of a prestigious & productive institution. All 5 are valid reasons, it seems to me, but people who care mainly about 1-3 should have much cheaper & possibly faster alternatives available to them than people who care about 1-5; even, possibly, the alternative of exams similar to PhD qualification exams.

Deep Thought: A "5-tool" college.

Community & state colleges are fairly affordable, I think. What I don't understand is why they aren't expanding to meet demand, especially the basic plain-vanilla courses, and allowing students to complete their degrees as quickly as they want to. Why are they reducing capacity & flexibility at a time when demand is increasing, and technology makes flexibility easier than it has ever been? (though it's probably still not easy to increase flexibility in a way that maintains accountability)

Probably what I would like to happen is for the community and state colleges, which provide very good value for money, to expand capacity to meet demand, and the private for-profit universities, which provide very little value for money, not necessarily contract, but lose the government subsidies and loan-guarantees which were intended for traditional high-quality schools.

Any college who advertises that you can complete your degree while lying down is not a college which deserves any government subsidies or loan-guarantees.

A European argument for liberalism: "You're already paying 30% and getting nothing for it. Why not pay 35-40% and get affordable health care & higher education?"

A forgotten episode in recent American economic history, I think:

William Greider - Secrets of the Temple (1989)

. . .On March 14 [1980], with the dramatic flourish available to the Presidency, Jimmy Carter announced to the nation that urgent measures were being invoked. "The actions I've outlined involve costs." the President said. "They involve pain. But the cost of acting is far less than the cost of not acting. The temporary pain of inconvenience is far less, for all of us together, than the still worse, permanent pain. . .

. . .The TV evening news repeated the announcements portentously, and displayed credit cards on the television screen. . .to dramatize the President's plea: stop borrowing. . .

. . .The White House mailroom was inundated by cut-up credit cards sent by hundreds of citizens to demonstrate their support for the campaign. . .

The economy collapsed. . .The loss of economic activity was swift and alarmingly steep. . .the sharpest recession in thirty-five years. For a time, it looked like a free-fall descent. . .

"The thrust of Carter's message was that it was kind of unpatriotic to use credit cards," [Fred] Weimer said, "and people responded. We thought it was overkill. . ."

[Fred Schultz] ". . .the consumer got it into his head that the government was telling him not to use credit. The darned economy just fell off the cliff."

. . .Jimmy Carter earned an unpleasant distinction. "For the first time in history," as Henry Reuss complained, "a Democratic President put the economy in recession.". . .

p. 320:

. . .Once the 1937 recession hit, the economic argument among the New Dealers was settled. Keynes won. The lesson was that balanced budgets could do real harm to the economy. The only thing wrong with the New Deal's deficits was that they had not been large enough to get the job done. . .

When I read this I got a shock of recognition of the difference between actual truth and pseudotruth. I realized that, when it came to macroeconomics at least, comfortable platitudes ("tough love", "sacrifice", etc.), common sense, and good intentions are necessary, but not sufficient.

Mistakes like the one Carter made are more likely when you become more rigid & moralistic about beautiful abstractions, i.e. "fiscal responsibility", than about flesh and blood.

Paul Krugman - Peddling Prosperity (1993)

. . .There are many economic puzzles, but there are only two really great mysteries. One of these mysteries is why economic growth takes places at different rates over time and across countries. Nobody really knows why the US economy could generate 3 percent annual productivity growth before 1973 but only 1 percent afterward; nobody really knows why Japan surged from defeat to global economic power after World War II, while Britain slid slowly into third-rate status. . .The other mystery is the reason why there is a business cycle — the irregular rhythm of recessions and recoveries that prevents economic growth from being a smooth trend. . .

. . .it fell to the British Economist John Maynard Keynes to provide a clear story about what happens during a recession, and some useful advice about how to get out of one. . .

. . .Keynes's ideas were bitterly criticized. To many people it seems obvious that massive slumps must have deep roots. . .(It is reported that Franklin Roosevelt, early in his administration, received a memo suggesting a large monetary expansion to fight the Depression. He is supposed to have dismissed it with the comment, "Too easy."). . .

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