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, April 02, 2011
Arthur Silber - Once Upon A Time. . .

rough week. Japan, Libya, The Ivory Coast. No idea what the appropriate response is, policy or otherwise, to the civil war in the Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast

Johann Hari - The biggest lie in British politics (via Stephen Fry)

. . .Here’s the lie. We are in a debt crisis. Our national debt is dangerously and historically high. We are being threatened by the international bond markets. The way out is to eradicate our deficit rapidly. Only that will restore “confidence”, and therefore economic growth. Every step of this program is false, and endangers you.

Let’s start with a fact that should be on billboards across the land. As a proportion of GDP, Britain’s national debt has been higher than it is now for 200 of the past 250 years. Read that sentence again. Check it on any graph by any historian. Since 1750, there have only been two brief 30-year periods when our debt has been lower than it is now. So we can afford to run a deficit, if that has a positive effect – which we’ll get to in a minute. If we are “bust” today, as George Osborne has claimed, then we have almost always been bust. We were bust when we pioneered the Industrial Revolution. We were bust when we ruled a quarter of the world. We were bust when we beat the Nazis. We were bust when we built the NHS. . .

Our debt is not high by historical standards, and it is not high by international standards. For example, Japan’s national debt is three times bigger than ours, and they are still borrowing at good rates. . .

. . .Here’s what we learned during the Great Depression, when our view of economics was revolutionized by John Maynard Keynes. In a recession, private individuals like you and me, perfectly sensibly, cut back our spending. We go out less, we buy less, we save more. This causes a huge fall in private demand, and with it a huge fall in economic activity. If, at the very same time, the government cuts back, then overall demand collapses, and a recession becomes a depression. . .

. . .Look at the last Great Depression. The Great Crash of 1929 was followed by a US President, Herbert Hoover, who did everything Cameron demands. He cut spending and paid off the debt. The recession grew and grew. Then Franklin Roosevelt was elected and listened to Keynes. He ramped up spending – and unemployment fell, and the economy swelled. Then in 1936 he started listening to the Cameron debt-shriekers of his day. The result? The economy collapsed again. It was only the gigantic spending of the Second World War that finally ended it. . .

Glenn Harlan Reynolds - WSJ review of Michio Kaku's "Physics of the Future."

. . .Mr. Kaku recounts a lunchtime conversation with physicist Freeman Dyson at Princeton. Mr. Dyson described growing up in the late days of the British Empire and seeing that most of his smartest classmates were not—as prior generations had been—interested in developing new forms of electrical and chemical plants, but rather in massaging and managing other people's money. The result was a loss of England's science and engineering base.

Now, Mr. Dyson said, he was seeing the phenomenon for the second time in his life, in America. . ."

I think however it's important to guard against the view of math & science as something excessively noble and praiseworthy. While some math & science has practical applications, a lot of it doesn't: it's merely fun, done for the the pleasure of finding things out.

But don't tell this to Tiger-Mom, ere math & art & music be replaced by grim treatises on monetizing site-stickiness.

It's fine to peek into Gandhi's secrets & weirdness, but it's important not to forget his real importance. Can you imagine a political or religious or community leader, witnessing city-wide rioting and tribal warfare, go on an indefinite food & water strike until the rioting stopped, and the tribal leaders had agreed to try and make peace? And can you imagine it working (after 21 days and a near-death experience)?

The issue is not whether Gandhi was a ridiculous, foolish, contemptible little weirdo. Of course, he was, at least at certain times and on certain issues. The issue is how a fallible human being like Gandhi could have found the strength to do what he did?

G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Knew Too Much (1922)

[Homer March] " . . .The Chancellor is in the pocket of the money lenders and has to do as he is told; otherwise he's bankrupt, and a bad sort of bankruptcy, too, with nothing but cards and actresses behind it. The Prime Minister was in the petrol-contract business; and deep in it, too. The Foreign Minister is a wreck of drink and drugs. . .

"I quite agree with you," said Fisher, calmly. "You are perfectly right."

"If you agree with us, why the devil don't you act with us?" demanded his friend.

" . . .I am enjoying an emotion that is entirely new to me; a happy sensation I never remember having had before."

"What the devil do you mean?"

"I am feeling proud of my family," said Horne Fisher. . ."I have the honor to remark, I am proud of my family at last."

"But why?" repeated March, rather feebly.

"I am proud of the Chancellor because he gambled and the Foreign Minister because he drank and the Prime Minister because he took a commission on a contract," said Fisher, firmly. "I am proud of them because they did these things, and can be denounced for them, and know they can be denounced for them, and are standing firm for all that. I take off my hat to them because they are defying blackmail, and refusing to smash their country to save themselves. . ."

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