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, September 03, 2011
Gary Farber - Amygdala

Susie Madrak - A Florida sheriff saves his county $1M by de-privatizing jail. . .

Arthur Silber - ONCE UPON A TIME...

re: cancer drug shortages, a good example I think of business media's tendency to be very coddly of business/contemptuous of government: hardly anyone is asking, Why aren't other countries, with much stronger government regulation of drug companies, having these drug shortages?

What Kling & Cowen don't explain is what happened to PSST and LMP in 2005/2006. I guess the explanation is that firms were willing to carry more workers when they were fat and happy, but not anymore, but that doesn't explain why firms were fat and happy in 2005, and not now.

Paul Krugman - The Return of Depression Economics (1999)
. . .The right perspective is to realise how very much good free markets and globalisation have done; the point is to preserve those gains. One cannot defend globalisation merely by repeating free-market mantras as economy after economy crashes. If we want to see more nations making the transition from abject poverty to the hope of a decent life, we had better find answers to the problems of depression economics.

Even now, there are still many pundits who do not accept that the recent string of crises demonstrates a problem with the system. Instead, they point to the weaknesses of the individual countries. Japan's banks were too careless, Indonesia's ruler too corrupt, Brazil's budget deficits too large. Follow the right policies, and you will do just fine. There is no question that each country hit by the crisis turns out on closer examination to have had serious flaws. But one needs to be careful about what inferences to draw.

Imagine a highway that has recently been the scene of an unusual number of accidents. Investigators look into the causes of each accident and find some precipitating factor: the driver had too much to drink, his tyres were bald, and so on. Their conclusion is that there is nothing wrong with the road; the problem lies with the drivers. But this conclusion is doubly biased. First, almost every driver or car will, if scrutinised closely enough, turn out to be flawed in some way. Second, even if they are unusually bad drivers, this does not absolve the road: good roads do not demand perfection of their users.

Similarly, a good economic system should not require perfect policies of its denizens. It is striking how many of the nations that have suffered most in recent years, from Japan to Korea, were placed on pedestals not long ago. . .

what should Obama say in his jobs speech?

1) Obv. I don't know, due modesty, etc. etc.

1.5) An infrastructure fund where businesses can apply for grants for fixing accessibility problems

2) One idea: Weak dollar = strong manufacturing. "I'd rather have a stronger manufacturing sector than a stronger dollar."

3) Proposal to change the composition of the Federal Reserve board. Right now 5 of the seats go to bankers. Replace 4 of the bankers with 1 labor, 1 consumer, 1 manufacturing, 1 health care/education/services

4) A proposal to require all the Fed governors and the Fed chairman to resign, and for the President to appoint a new team, if the unemployment rate exceeds 7%, or the core inflation rate exceeds 7%, for 18 months. This might be unfair to some good people on the Fed board, but it it seems to me that the value of having unemployed people know that the Fed is not indifferent to their plight exceeds the value of possibly treating good people somewhat unfairly.

5) A proposal of a wealth tax with the rate directly linked to the rate of unemployment, with the money raised from that to pay for 1) a tax cut for all firms that expand payroll 2) unemployment benefits . The idea is not to raise money, it is again to send a signal to the unemployed that the nation's wealthy have a strong incentive to avoid mass unemployment.

6) Investment can be motivated by hope and fear. Hope for new sales, fear of losing old sales. Both the hope and the fear seem to have diminished in the current environment, possibly because of firm consolidation/ tacit collusion/ barriers to entry. This lack of hope & fear is possibly leading to stockpiling cash instead of real investment.

C.S. Lewis - The world's last night
. . .Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things—ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear. . .

7) What is the role of a government in a recession? Possibly, to provide Knightian insurance/services at non-Knightian prices. But what kind of services, and at what prices?

8) Who should Obama consult about jobs? My list: economists: Dean Baker, Tykromulongerlofa, Baublishillitzvolk, Glenn Loury. business: buffet, munger, bogle, bill gross & PIMCO, james sineghal, immelt, the team at Southwest. I guess I prefer business leaders who appreciate the difference between an open and closed system, and who have shown a strong preference for making their numbers by creating value rather cutting costs. Labor: Trumka, Serwer, Angelides. Politicians: Lula, Sweden's team, the people in Germany who have done such a good job holding down unemployment, Clinton.

Deep Thought: There really is no shortage of reasons to feel contemptuous of yourself, and other humans, is there?

C.S. Lewis - Two Ways With the Self
. . .[Self-hatred] begins by accepting the special value of the particular self called me; then, wounded in its pride to find that such a darling object should be so disappointing, it seeks revenge, first upon that self, then on all. Deeply egoistic, but now with an inverted egoism, it uses the revealing argument, "I don't spare myself" with the implication "then a fortiori I need not spare others" and becomes like the centurion in Tacitus, "immitior quia toleraverat." ("More relentless because he had endured (it himself)")

The wrong asceticism torments the self: the right kind Kills the selfness. We must die daily: but it is better to love the self than to love nothing, and to pity the self than to pity no one.

Dean Baker - Beat the Press
There are two simple remedies to the plunge in employment in manufacturing. One would be to open the professional services to international competition. . .

. . .Increased imports of professional services will also put downward pressure on the value of the dollar, which gets us to the the other simple remedy: get the dollar down. The dollar is the main determinant of the relative price of foreign and domestically produced goods. If we want to generate more jobs in sectors that compete internationally then the key is to make our goods relatively less expensive. . .

Paul Krugman - Iceland's recovery
. . .Iceland still has high unemployment and is a long way from a full recovery; but it’s no longer in crisis, it has regained access to international capital markets, and has done all that with its society intact.

And it has done all that with very heterodox policies — debt repudiation, capital controls, and currency depreciation. It was as close as you can get to the polar opposite of the gold standard. And it has worked.

Mark Thoma - Discussion: Is it important for taxes to be progressive? Or is progressivity in the net benefits the only important consideration?
I think one way to get to a system that is both fair and balanced would be to include a flat tax not only on sales, but also one on either wealth or assets. A flat rate of three-quarters of a percent on financial assets could replace all income and estate taxes, for instance.

That can't be true. Can it?

Deathtongue (Daily Kos) - Toothache Kills Unemployed (24 year-old) Man With No Insurance

Kyle Willis' wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.

When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn't afford both, so he chose the pain medications.

The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.

I just can't express how angry this makes me. . .how much could some pain killers and antibiotics cost? $15? And now he's dead and his family will have to live without him.

Maybe he made some bad decisions, I don't know. But he should have never had to make any decisions about this. We should live in a society where someone can get their tooth pulled for FREE if it's going to KILL THEM.

And the beat goes on. It's amazing to me how much this country has decided that it can't do. We can't help the unemployed. We can't rebuild our infrastructure. We can't invest in clean energy. We can't invest in our future. We can't make sure everybody gets good basic health care, even if it only costs a few bucks. . .

Digby - "It’s not you. This is what the country is going through"

Hullabaloo - The Wrong Problem by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")
. . .there's an endless string of [people] waiting to tell us that the banking sector crisis is the fault of social security, labor unions, universal healthcare, strange swarthy Greeks, individual deadbeat homeowners, welfare queens driving Cadillacs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and anyone and anything else they care to dream up. Anyone, of course, but the banks. . .

Atrios - Eschaton
. . .The point is that, for example, maybe a massive writing down of all Fannie and Freddie owned mortgages isn't an optimal policy if we were in a first best world. But we aren't and we aren't going to be. So it might be a second best optimal policy. . .

. . .ThinkProgress: Thousands of unmarried couples who are living together in Florida may be surprised to learn that they are actually breaking the law. Under outdated and rarely enforced state laws that have been on the books since the late 1800s, “cohabitation” is actually a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by $500 or up to 60 days in jail. The same penalty applies to adultery – which one Florida woman tried to have enforced for her cheating husband in 2006. . .

I wonder what the law&order hardliners: e.g. "We are a nation of LAWS. The LAW is the LAW and they're BREAKING THE LAW. END OF STORY." think of these Florida laws? Even if the law is changed now, should it be enforced against past lawbreakers? Or is hardline law-enforcement only important when it's used against people other than yourself?

A very important article, which shows that everyone understands the importance and necessity of prosecutorial discretion, prosecutorial common-sense, and prosecutorial leniency when it comes to laws it's possible for them to break.

Atrios - Libya
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Rebel forces and armed civilians are rounding up thousands of black Libyans and migrants from sub-Sahara Africa, accusing them of fighting for ousted strongman Moammar Gadhafi and holding them in makeshift jails across the capital. . .

Juan Cole - Informed Comment
. . .The African Union said it was reassured by the remarks in Paris of TNC leader Moustapha Abdul Jalil, in which he pledged to order the protection of foreign workers in Libya, and that it might go forward with recognizing the new government. . .

What the UN Can and Cannot do for Libya

Cheryl Contee (Jill Tubman) - Jack and Jill Go To Cameroon with UNITAID: Roll Deep, Go Hard, Get Out (PHOTOS)

lightgetsin - Data
I gave myself 7 days. Every time during that 7 days I ran into a particular kind of inaccessibility, I wrote to the owner/relevant authority and asked them to fix it. I aimed for short, factual, informative request letters. . .

. . .Hi,

I recently attempted to use your website to read your menu before coming in. I was disappointed to discover your menu is a .jpg image embedded in the website, making it inaccessible to blind and low vision users. Screenreaders cannot read the contents of images out loud. I found this very inconvenient, and wish you would take steps to make your website accessible to all your potential customers. The contents of the menu should be placed on the website as text with regular html markup. You can also post a pdf file of your menu, but pdf’s have their own accessibility pitfalls, and this is a much less preferred option.

For more information on website accessibility in general and this issue in particular, try http://www.webaim.org . . .

. . .I only asked for accessibility fixes to websites and iPhone apps. And I further limited it by only asking for things that were broken. Not just irritating. . .

Who I wrote to: [among others] Facebook . . .Google (for the search engine) – Google Instant crashes Jaws, and the current “solution” is to have a link to turn Instant off. Except it only works for a single pageview at a time, ARRRRGH). . .Youtube. . .Google+. . .

Tavis Smiley (Interview with Booknotes/Brian Lamb)
. . .Now CompUSA was different. CompUSA we went after them, which we really did do. We went after them. They put their head in the sand. And for 10 weeks--every day on the radio for 10 weeks, I was riding CompUSA every day. . .CompUSA, for some reason--I learned later on, as I said, in the case study--Jim Halperin, the chairman of the company, told me it was--it was fear. They did not know exactly what to do. They were frozen. They said, `We obviously got to do something about this.' But they originally thought, `If we don't acknowledge this campaign by this little black kid on the radio, this thing will eventually go away. It'll eventually dry up.' And that didn't happen. . .And they got on those phones and those faxes and those e-mails. They shut down ABC's phone system that day in New York. They shut down CompUSA's phone system that day in Dallas, and that day was the moment of truth. CompUSA and ABC heard an earful--and not to mention, as I said, they couldn't get any business done because their phone systems were jammed. And that day was the moment of truth.

And so it was really ABC, with this threat, that got CompUSA to say, `We give up.' CompUSA called, said, `Let's sit down and have a meeting,' and the next week--in the 10th week--we sat down and the rest, as they say, is history. . .

Seeing the Euro mess really makes me appreciate politicians like Gordon Brown, politicians who, at least occasionally, have the ability to reject fashionable proposals which do not make any sense. Can only imagine the problems the UK would have had if Tony Blair had got his way and joined the Euro. Too bad Brown didn't show similar judgement for the Iraq war.

Patrick Appel (Daily Dish) - Picking Someone Out Of A Lineup, Ctd

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