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Here’s what I never get about this concern. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Manufacturophiles are correct that we need to up our Manufacturing game. Well why then don’t they follow through, go the whole nine yards, and advocate for: no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no subsidies for paying-people-in-Health-Plan, no payroll tax, no enshrinement of unions with official status in law, no work-safety laws, no unemployment insurance, no litigation risk for ‘sexual harrassment’, or for ‘racial discrimination’, etc. etc. etc.
You know, why don’t they agitate for changes in the law that would make it, like, actually economical for companies to hire the median American citizen to do the oh-so-vaunted-and-desired ‘manufacturing’ work currently being done abroad? Because it’s really just not. And the preceding are part and parcel of why it’s not. But if firms could hire Americans for as cheaply as they can hire, say, Burmese to manufacture stuff – then maybe they would! Finally, we could pack factories with Americans again.
And that’d be great! Right, Susan Hockfield president of MIT? That is what you want isn’t it?
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The left needs to believe in the authority of experts because without that authority, almost no economic intervention can be justified.
Yeah, no. This isn’t really why the left needs to believe in the authority of experts. First, the left is about more than ‘economic intervention’ and their harnessing of Experts isn’t really focused on, or even limited to, ‘economic intervention’ as such in the first place.
So why do they worship at the altar of Expertopia then? Perhaps Yglesias’s rebuttal will provide some hint:
One way to think about conservative ideology formation in America is that many prominent conservative writers, such as National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to come up with principles that allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything.
See what he did there? He, Matthew Yglesias, paid pundit who “blogs” for a living, called Jonah Goldberg a dummy. And by comparison, implicitly and breezily elevated himself to the status of a smarty, based on no evidence, background, training or experience whatsoever. (Having read thousands of words from both, I have yet to see one iota of evidence that Matthew Yglesias is one iota smarter than Jonah Goldberg.) Yet Yglesias speaks as if his smartness, his intellectual superiority to Jonah Goldberg just goes without saying. This is quintessential lefty behavior in their wild, pristine environment. I find it fascinating myself.
Because, you see, one way to think about lefty ideology formation in America is that many prominent lefty writers, such as Think Progress’s Matthew Yglesias, are kind of dim-witted and thus need to hitch their views onto ‘Expert’ opinions that will allow them to write about diverse issues without having any insight into anything. Oops, okay I did the same thing there. But the point is, it’s self-flattery to think that you can always locate yourself on the side of ‘Experts’, and why people such as Matthew Yglesias do it doesn’t really require any deep psychological explanation.
But that’s not really why I think the left is in thrall to ‘Experts’. I think it flows from a very real and genuine divide between the lefty and righty worldviews. The righty worldview is characterized by a desire for limited government and greater individual autonomy. This desire is obviously in natural tension with anyone’s attempt to put ‘Experts’ or their purported findings centrally in charge of anything. In stating this desire the right would emphasize the ‘knowledge problem’, i.e. that no central group of people, no matter how ‘Expert’, could have sufficient knowledge to solve the things that government tries to solve. (Those who have memorized my Primer will recognize echoes of All Large Calculations Are Wrong.)
The left, meanwhile, is almost by definition engaged in a denial of the existence of the knowledge problem. Their implicit pitch is that given enough time/resources/[power], ‘Experts’ can too solve those problems, so we should put them in charge (or, more accurately, put the left in charge, because they promise to listen to more Experts, appoint Experts to high positions, etc).
The latter attitude is obviously quite flattering to Experts (and, perhaps more so, to posers who think of themselves as Experts, or ‘technocrats’, or what have you). So, it’s no surprise that a goodly portion of Experts are happy to go along with the flattery and Expert status-elevation the left peddles.
My explanation would also predict that the more arrogant and egotistical the Expert – and the more his self-image is pathetically tied to him being such a big-shot smartypants Expert – the more likely he is to be attracted to the lefty rather than the righty worldview. While we are still gathering data, this prediction does appear to be borne out by the real-world political distribution of Experts that one can observe on the web.
Anyway, the point is that the lefty-righty divide on ‘Experts’ doesn’t arise for some trivial reason such as one side having dumber pundits than the other. And it isn’t some inexplicable esoteric mystery or random statistical fluctuation either. It stems directly from a genuine, sincere, real, and deep-seated difference between the two worldviews. Righties had better get comfort with that and come up with better explanations for it than Jonah Goldberg just did. Otherwise, the likes of Matthew Yglesias will come along and call them dumby dummy-heads, and that really hurts, because Matthew Yglesias is a frickin’ polymath GENIUS. Know how I know? Because he name-drops Experts.
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Ezra Klein takes up the Social-Security-is-not-a-Ponzi-scheme mantle. Seems to be piggybacking off this guy’s argument, which – as far as I can tell – rests entirely on Social Security not being a fraud, but rather, out in the open.
Obviously if the government itself is doing it, according to laws it wrote, it can’t quite be a ‘fraud’ (frauds are illegal). So by that definition no government action can be a Ponzi scheme period. But what have we learned from this? That Social Security is, at worst, an overt and legal Ponzi-esque scheme? Is that better?
Here’s what Wiki calls a Ponzi scheme:
A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to separate investors, not from any actual profit earned by the organization, but from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors.
Bernstein’s (and, therefore, Klein’s) defense against the Ponzi charge says that it’s not a Ponzi scheme because it’s ‘a promise to a group of people that their children will be taxed for that group’s benefit…it’s a promise that could be broken (because anything can change in the future), but it isn’t dependent on an ever-increasing group of investors hoping to earn a profit’. I must not be wearing the right goggles to notice the huge gulf of difference between (1) paying returns from money paid by subsequent investors and (2) paying returns from money paid by subsequent investors. (The ‘investors’ in Social Security are, of course, taxpayers.) At the very least there does seem to be a resemblance in the structure of the two; Bernstein’s claim that Social Security has “essentially nothing in common with such a plan” is quite a head-scratcher. Does someone need to explain it slower?
Which to me is the key. The real distinction, if there is one, between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme is the timescale. Nobody is promised high/immediate ‘returns’ in Social Security after all; they’re promised they’ll get something way down the road (when they’re old). But does the fulfillment of that promise require signing up new ‘investors’ (taxpayers)? Of course it does, by Bernstein/Klein’s own telling. The nation needs to have enough citizens N and/or tax the average citizen enough X such that N * X (plus whatever interest the government pays itself in the name of Social Security) is enough to pay Social Security recipients…er, something. So it’s a plan, one might loosely call it a ‘scheme’, in which the promise of returns to current ‘investors’ depends crucially on signing up (taxing) a sufficient number of future ‘investors’.
Um, wait. Sorry, in my book that’s a Ponzi scheme. I know it’s not technically ‘fraudulent’, but the way people abuse language to talk about and proselytize for it (e.g. ‘trust fund’), perhaps it should be.
The real defense (if there is one) of Social Security is not that it’s ‘not a Ponzi scheme’, but that it’s a slow-motion Ponzi scheme. After all, what’s so bad about Ponzi schemes anyway? What’s so bad about them is that they inevitably crash and burn and swindle people out of their money. But if a Ponzi scheme is out in the open and can be run/managed in slow motion, so that the crash and burn isn’t inevitable (for example, because new people/immigrants will be born/immigrate into the population at a high enough rate), then I’m not sure what’s wrong with Ponzi schemes. As long as the financing appears to be on sound footing.
And isn’t this exactly what Klein thinks? That Social Security’s financing will be fine, because of demographics and actuarial tables and whatnot? If Social Security’s defenders truly think the financing is sound, then the ‘Ponzi’ charge should hold no teeth and they needn’t waste their breath fighting it. If they do waste their breath fighting it (and in the process resort to hyperbole such as SS having ‘nothing in common’ with a Ponzi scheme), I start to wonder whether they really believe the financing is so sound after all; they ‘protest too much’.
In a way, by pointing out that Social Security is a slow-motion Ponzi scheme, I’m expressing more confidence in its soundness than those who are franctically denying its Ponzi nature. I’m explicitly saying it’s a Ponzi scheme but, perhaps, a sustainable one. The anti-Ponzi contingent is talking like they don’t think any Ponzi scheme can possibly be sustainable; if true, this spells trouble for Social Security.
After all, the one thing we do agree on about Social Security is that it pays current recipients out of taxing the new-additions. Ponzi or not, either this arrangement is sustainable or it isn’t. You tell me.
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Something I didn’t know existed: Redd Kross covering Teenage Fanclub.
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He blindsided me with science.
*Apologies to Thomas Dolby.
UPDATE: By the way, I realize that ‘he’s not running for anything anymore’, but he was at one point, not even all that long ago, and he was the darling of those who self-report as Defenders Of Science. In light of the reckless, embarrassing, unscientific things (including this thing) that the creepy zealot Al Gore has been quoted as saying since then, if you are one of these people who view yourself as ‘pro-science’, you have a responsibility to distance yourself from and denounce his idiotic remarks. And if you won’t or can’t, I don’t want to hear a FUCKING THING from you about Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann or anyone who says almost-as-dumb things (while having (R) after their name), because you clearly have no credibility or valid claim to speak for ‘Science’ whatsoever in the first place, and instead are just a partisan cheerleader in ‘science’ drag.
So, y’know, ball, your court. Haven’t seen anyone on the left say anything about this loon though; still waiting.
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Since I criticize Obamacare and related ‘healthcare’ [sic] approaches all the time, surely I should put forth my own ‘healthcare’ [sic] idea, you cry out. Okay then:
Individuals who desire this or that health care good or service be provided ought to communicate that desire to other individuals in a position to provide it, via some appropriately-liquid medium of exchange. In particular, they could use money as that medium of exchange.
Why don’t we try this?
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I’m starting to see the idea bubble back up in the ‘sphere that regime uncertainty is a serious part of what’s holding the economy back. Since this is something I started freaking out and whining about (as could be easily verified in my archives, but I already link to myself too much as it is) in late ’08-early ’09, I thought I’d revisit it for a brief round of told-you-so.
But maybe I was wrong then and I’m still wrong that regime uncertainty is a significant part of what’s damaging the economy. It seems to me that a naysayer can adopt one of these two positions:
- There’s no regime uncertainty, or it’s not important to the economy. The economy’s bad for other reasons.
- The economy’s not bad, so the regime-uncertainty complaint lacked merit, evidently it didn’t hold back the economy at all.
By the way, I include all things related to ‘Obamacare’ under the category of regime uncertainty.
Anyway, I’d like to know if there’s anyone out there to defend 1 or 2. I think very few people would defend 2 at this time. So my naysayers presumably have to rally around 1. But then they have to supply an alternative explanation for why the economy is so bad. What, pray tell?
I reckon this is why ‘progressives’ and others motivated to downplay the negatives of the Obama administration are so attracted to ‘Keynesian’ explanations of everything. The economy is bad ‘because everyone is hoarding too much cash and there’s not enough Aggregate Demand’ or some such bullshit. (Seriously, I feel like I lose brain cells every time I think or say or type ‘Aggregate Demand’.)
It’s no mystery why ‘progressives’ would prefer this explanation to one involving, among other things, something like Obamacare seriously fucking up the economy. But to give this rebuttal credibility they then have to do the follow-through, which means pretending to actually believe in this ‘Aggregate Demand’ bullshit, and putting forth supposed solutions explicitly aimed at ‘increasing Aggregate Demand’ with as straight a face as they can muster. So the problem was not enough stimulus, and the answer is more stimulus!
It’s like a suspect, having come up with a lame-brained alibi, digging himself in even further by expanding on the web of lies and half-truths to the point where it becomes comical. Or a gambler on a losing streak doubling down. More stimulus, ever more. It’s pathetic.
By the way, looking at my ’08/’09 whining I see another idea I had hit upon was that regime uncertainty explicitly in politics was part of what did the damage. I was talking about the lame-duck Bush Presidency at the time, but it seems to me subsequent events have still fit this pattern. Since ’08 we have had:
- A new President coming in promising to change everything (’08-09)
- A gigantic health care bill nobody read and whose effects nobody can honestly claim to understand being passed by obsessive ideologues who didn’t know what they were voting for (’09-10)
- A new party swept into power in Congress (’10-11)
- That party being unpopular, casting doubt whether they’d hold the House, and the split government raising the spectre of default (’11)
- The President becoming increasingly unpopular, casting doubt whether he’d win re-election (’11)
In other words nobody looking at the political situation has had any respite from the possibility/danger that the governance would change hands soon (and with it, the rules and bureaucracy that affect the business landscape). We have had at least three years running of solid instability and ambiguity in what the shape of our political governing regime is going to look like going forward.
And, three solid years running of recession (or at least, a bad economy).
Did the former cause the latter? Vice versa? Coincidence? I don’t know, but if I’m looking for counterevidence to my theory that political instability harms the economy, I’m not finding any from the past few years.
Am I wrong?