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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Wednesday, October 03, 2012
2 (small) points on the debate:

1. My initial impression was not nearly as negative on Obama as most other people's. However, I accept other people's impressions were mostly sincere, and not just spin and conformity. If the debate was on jobs, health care, public finance, private finance,  education & energy, I think Obama did fairly well on health care, public finance & education, less well on jobs, private finance & energy.

2. I find it nauseating when people say things like "Obama looked down" or "Mitt Romney talked faster", though I accept that some people do attach importance to such matters. Nevertheless, I tried to search for some (IMO), non-bullshit criticism of Obama, and here are my best tries:

  • Obama's story on jobs was "we were in a ditch, we've partially dug ourselves out, we have a long way to go", but he offered no specifics about how big the ditch was, how much we've dug ourselves out, how far we have to go, or when we'll get there.
  • Obama should have used Martin Wolf's arresting statistic: Private-sector borrowing in 2007 was *29%* of GDP. People have a nagging suspicion that the Bush economy was a house of cards waiting to collapse, but they should have a better understanding of why it was a house of cards, and why it collapsed.
  • I would have wanted something like this from Obama: "Corporate profits and stock prices have recovered, but jobs and wages have not, partly because corporations have made their numbers more by cost-cutting than by increased sales. However, corporations have reached the limits of the cost-cutting strategy, and if we stick with the program, jobs and wages will go in the same direction as profits and stock prices have."
  • I heard *nothing* in Romney's performance which differentiated him from George W. Bush at all. Romney seems to believe W. Bush was a wonderful, marvelous, ginchy President, and he will carry out the same policies, for the same reasons, as W. Bush. In terms of understanding why Bushism failed, and how to prevent similar failures in the future, my assessment of Mitt Romney was that he had learned nothing, and forgotten everything.
  • Mocking failed endeavors for green energy seems to me unusually cynical and harmful. The attempts may fail, but they're still worth making, as long as the price tag is reasonable. See Arthur C. Clarke's short story, Death and the Senator.
  • There's a difference between not getting bogged down in details, and just plain hiding something. "I'm going to take from the rich and give to the poor" is legitimately nonspecific. "I'm going to take from the rich and give a glossy pony with a shiny new purple bow to the poor" is illegitimately evasive, because you're being specific about the benefits, but deliberately vague about the costs. Romney is not sparing us the details, he's denying us the truth.
Not particularly relevant, but a line I really like from Samuel Brittan's review of Joe Stiglitz's book:
If you think of income or wealth as a pie to be divided up by a central authority, like a mother cutting a cake for her children, then there is indeed a presumption in favour of equality. If you believe in some version of the entitlement theory, in which what each person receives from others is a reward for services rendered, then it is redistributive measures that have to be justified. If either theory were carried to its logical conclusion, we should have a hell on earth.
also good: Bob Park's comment on the Romney tape:
I first heard the Romney calculus many years ago in Peru. A government official explained to me that: "Most of the population doesn't count; they pay no taxes and receive no government services." There was a revolution.   

next post: 12/14/2012

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