Thursday, July 28, 2011

Posting on Google+ for a while

I'm experimenting with posting on Google+. That means posts here will be minimal. If you want a Google+ invitation, let me know. (You can leave a comment below.)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Can the Democrats make use of the Republican's irresponsibility?

They don't seem to be trying. Why don't I hear Democrats talking endlessly about how irresponsible it is of the Republican's to hold the country hostage by politicizing about the debt limit? To do so would require a bit of explanation. The Republicans have apparently convinced the public that not raising the debt limit is a good idea. And the Democrats are too politically incompetent to dispute that.

People are swayed by demagoguery, but they are also at least somewhat open to intelligent views. The Democrats should at least try it. They will never out demagogue the Republicans, so why not establish themselves as the party of clear thinking adults. There must be some sort of constituency for that.

The US is a low-tax country

From the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Congress Continues Debate Over Whether Or Not Nation Should Be Economically Ruined

WASHINGTON—Members of the U.S. Congress reported Wednesday they were continuing to carefully debate the issue of whether or not they should allow the country to descend into a roiling economic meltdown of historically dire proportions. "It is a question that, I think, is worthy of serious consideration: Should we take steps to avoid a crippling, decades-long depression that would lead to disastrous consequences on a worldwide scale? Or should we not do that?" asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), adding that arguments could be made for both sides, and that the debate over ensuring America’s financial solvency versus allowing the nation to default on its debt—which would torpedo stock markets, cause mortgage and interests rates to skyrocket, and decimate the value of the U.S. dollar—is “certainly a conversation worth having.” "Obviously, we don't want to rush to consensus on whether it is or isn't a good idea to save the American economy and all our respective livelihoods from certain peril until we've examined this thorny dilemma from every angle. And if we’re still discussing this matter on Aug. 2, well, then, so be it.” At press time, President Obama said he personally believed the country should not be economically ruined.
From (who else) The Onion

Government spending is for health care

The conservative American Enterprise Institute notes that
Between 1966 and 2007, the entire increase in the size of government relative to the economy resulted from growth in tax-financed health spending.

Median weekly earnings


According to Jared Bernstein, the median weekly earnings for full-time workers has fallen from $775+ to $755+ since 2009.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Volleyball without hands!

Incredible Shrinking Workers’ Income

David Frum notes that workers' share national income has collapsed and continues to do so.

It started with the recession at the start of the 80s. Reagan's presidency allowed it to stagnate at the recession level. During Bush I and Clinton I things got worse. Clinton's second term saw a partial comeback. But it's been pretty much downhill since then.

(Note that the Y-axis numbers are relative. 2005 is assigned a value of 100. Everything else is made relative to that.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yes, Virginia, Our Housing Stock Is Now Way, Way Below Trend...

Brad DeLong notes.

That should be good news for home-builders. It hasn't happened yet, though. XHB, the Homebuiding ETF, has pretty much tracked the S&P 500 for the past year, except that it's a bit more volatile.

Our Broken Escalator

From Nick Kristof's column in the NYT.
The United States supports schools in Afghanistan because we know that education is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to build a country.

Alas, we’ve forgotten that lesson at home. All across America, school budgets are being cut, teachers laid off and education programs dismantled. …

The Center on Education Policy reports that 70 percent of school districts nationwide endured budget cuts in the school year that just ended, and 84 percent anticipate cuts this year.

In higher education, the same drama is unfolding. California’s superb public university system is being undermined by the biggest budget cuts in the state’s history. Tuition is set to rise about 20 percent this year, on top of a 26 percent increase last year, which means that college will become unaffordable for some. …

Granted, budget shortfalls are real, and schools need reforms as well as dollars. Pouring money into a broken system isn’t a solution, and we need more accountability. But it’s also true that blindly slashing budgets is making the problems worse. As Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, once observed, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Still, we nation-build in Afghanistan and scrimp at home. How is it that we can afford to double our military budget since 9/11, can afford the carried-interest tax loophole for billionaires, can afford billions of dollars in givebacks to oil and gas companies, yet can’t afford to invest in our kids’ futures?

The Clash of Generations

From Tom Friedman's column in the NYT.
The generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids.

Lawmakers, Armed and Dangerous -

From Frank Bruni's column in the NYT. Speaking of an Arizona legislator, State Senator Lori Klein, who pointed her gun at a reporter (perhaps accidentally)
Her Ruger is pink, like a Barbie convertible. Showing it to Ruelas [the reporter], she reportedly said, “Oh, it’s so cute.”

No, Senator Klein, it’s not. It’s a potentially deadly weapon. When are you and the rest of the country going to wake up to that?
Apparently the only state that still forbids concealed weapons is Illinois!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Help repeal the death penalty in California

Fill in the petition here.

And he gets away with it!

John Boehner had this to say in response to the poor June jobs report.
Today’s report is more evidence that the misguided ‘stimulus’ spending binge, excessive regulations, and an overwhelming national debt continue to hold back private-sector job creation in our country. … Republicans are focused on jobs, and are ready to stop Washington from spending money it doesn’t have and make serious changes to the way we spend taxpayer dollars.
The Republican seem to have been so successful in convining people that black is white that Boehner says this sort of thing with no worries that anyone will call him on it. As Felix Salmon commented, Does John Boehner know what paychecks are made of? Salmon's answer, or course, is that paychecks are made of money which goes to people when it is spent(!) by those doing the hiring. No matter what you think about the long term deficit, cutting spending does not create jobs.

And Paul Krugman makes the point that government has been cutting spending for the past year. Look at the results!

Christian family values

Greg Carey, a Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary (PA), has a useful Huffington Post article about this subject.
Christian weddings rarely feature [biblical] passages that directly relate to marriage. Only one passage, Genesis 2:24, seems especially relevant, while other passages require us to bend their content to our desire to hear a good word about marriage. Things are so bad that the worship books for many denominations turn to John 2:11, where Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast, to claim that Jesus blessed marriage. …

So we know Jesus blessed marriage because he attended a wedding? That's the best we can do? No wonder it's common for couples to struggle over the choice of Scripture for their wedding ceremonies. The Bible just doesn't have much to say on the topic.

Unfortunately, many Christians use the Bible to support their own prejudices and bigotry. They talk about "biblical family values" as if the Bible had a clear message on marriage and sexuality. Let's be clear: There's no such thing as "biblical family values" because the Bible does not speak to the topic clearly and consistently.

It's high time people came clean about how we use the Bible. When Christians try to resolve difficult ethical and theological matters, they typically appeal to the Gospels and Paul's letters as keys to the question. But what about marriage? Not only did Jesus choose not to marry, he encouraged his disciples to abandon household and domestic concerns in order to follow him (Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:28-30; Luke 9:57-62). He even refers to those "who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:10-13). Whatever that means, it's certainly not an endorsement of marriage. Paul likewise encourages male believers: "Do not seek a wife" (1 Corinthians 7:27, my translation) -- advice Paul took for himself. If neither Jesus nor Paul preferred marriage for their followers, why do some Christians maintain that the Bible enshrines 19th-century Victorian family values?

Let's not even go into some of the Bible's most chilling teachings regarding marriage, such as how a man's obligation to keep a new wife who displeases him on the wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), his obligation to marry a woman he has raped (Deuteronomy 22:28-30) or the unquestioned right of heroes like Abraham to exploit their slaves sexually. I wonder: Have the "biblical family values advocates" actually read their Bibles?

America Needs a Grand Bargain

Mohamed A. El-Erian of PIMCO writes that America Needs a Grand Bargain, But All It’s Getting Is a Mini Deal. A grand bargain would, in my view, establish what we as a nation want the role of government to be and how we expect to pay for it. Of course that's a lot to agree to, and it's not likely that Obama will find a perspective that today's politicians will buy.

One reason he will have a hard time is that the Republicans don't want a grand bargain. If Obama were to succeed in building a grand bargain, the Republicans could no long argue that he is a socialist—or whatever they are accusing him of being these days.

So don't get your hopes up for a grand bargain. Republican politics won't let it happen. But wouldn't it be nice if it did.

One thing Obama might try to do is to enunciate what he thinks such a grand bargain might look like and then let the Republicans reject it. At least he would be showing some leadership, which he has failed to do.

Sex, Violence and the Supreme Court majority

Timothy Egan writes about the Supreme Court case that found unconstitutional a California ban on selling violent video games to minors while keeping in place laws that prevent the sale of nudity to minors. Justice Stephen Breyer asked,
What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively but virtually binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her? …

What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only if the woman — bound, gagged, tortured and killed — is also topless?
It's Scilia who is really sick.
So what if children’s active minds are engaged in decisions in which people are dismembered, decapitated, disemboweled, set on fire and chopped into little pieces.
Apparently it's ok as long as certain parts of their bodies are covered.

I tend not to favor restricting speech, but if it is to be restricted it makes no sense, as Egan put it, that "children should be free to slice a clothed Godiva to bits — on screen — but should be shielded from seeing her as she was when she rode through the streets of Coventry."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Altruistic grading?

Freakonomics published these two graphs of scores on language tests given nationwide in Poland to high school students. The tests are scored anonymously by multiple scorers, suggesting that favoritism is probably not involved.

The first graph shows scores for a test that requires 21 to pass. Failure means either taking the test again or perhaps losing the chance to go on to college.

The spike at 21 and the drop-off immediately below that suggests that perhaps graders were reluctant to fail students (whom they didn't know) who came close to passing.

The second graph is of a similar test that has no serious consequences for students. The spike and drop-off are missing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Health care expenditures

Our government healthcare expenditures is as large as all but a few developed countries. Our private healthcare expenditures is larger than our public healthcare expenditures.

Here is life expectancy to the left paired with expenditures.

It sure doesn't look like we're getting our money's worth.

Popcorn exploding

Nathan Myhrvold recently published a multi-volume book about cooking. He gave a TED talk during which he showed this video of popcorn exploding.
The end of the video has links to other very slow motion videos.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Obama must explain why the debt ceiling must be raised

I left a comment along these lines on a post at Capital Gains and Games.
President Obama should make it clear to the American people that if we don't raise the debt limit, we are risking severe repercussions. If he doesn't do that he isn't doing his job. Obama is the one person in the nation who is in a position to explain the meaning (and non-meaning) of the debt ceiling. The most important thing he can do is to explain to the American people why the debt ceiling must be raised. All other budget issues, while important, are not connected to the debt ceiling. He must take seriously his role as educator-in-chief and explain that to the American people.

Once he's done that he must then make it clear that it's up to Congress to act. As president he can't raise the debt ceiling. Congress must do it. He must get the American electorate to tell their representatives that the debt ceiling should be raised. Once he does that, it will happen.

So the real question is why isn't he doing this? I'm beginning to agree with the Republicans who keep saying that he isn't doing his job.

We have a Congress problem, not a deficit problem, in one graph

As Ezra Klein has pointed out in the past, if congress does nothing the deficit problem is fixed! So the real question is whether Congress will act responsibly and not make the problem worse.
What you’re seeing here is the differences between doing nothing and doing what we expect Congress to do. The blue slope at the base of the graph is what our deficit picture looks like if Congress goes on permanent recess tomorrow. Every colored chunk above that is a deficit-increasing policy that the CBO thinks Congress might pass. Here’s [Mark] Goldwein’s rundown of those policies. [Goldwein is the policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.]

Doc Fixes: Under current law, Medicare physician payments are scheduled to be cut by 30% as part of something called the Sustainable Growth Rate. The AFS (and CRFB’s Realistic Baseline) assumes politicians freeze physician payments instead.

AMT Patches: The Alternative Minimum Tax is a secondary tax meant to capture high earners with low tax burdens. However, for a number of reasons, it now technically impacts middle-income families and so politicians pass annual “patches” to avoid this from occurring. Under current law, patches will stop while under the AFS (and CRFB’s Realistic Baseline) they continue.
Tax Cuts: Under current law, the 2001/2003/2010 tax cuts expire at the end of 2012, as do a number of temporary “extenders”. The AFS assumes that policymakers make both permanent (while CRFB’s Realistic Baseline only assumes the 2001/2003/2010 tax cuts continue).

PPACA Cost Controls: The health reform law included a number of cost controls for Medicare and the exchange subsidies which are now part of current law but may prove unsustainable over the long-run. The AFS assumes that they are effective through 2021 but are overridden thereafter (CRFB’s Realistic Baseline assumes they are partially overridden).

Discretionary Spending Growth: By budget convention, the current law baseline assumes discretionary spending grows with inflation through 2021 (as does CRFB’s Realistic Baseline). The Alternative Fiscal Scenario instead assumes it grows with GDP.

Revenue Freeze: Were all the tax cuts (and AMT patches) to be renewed, revenue would still grow as a share of GDP due mainly to something called “real bracket creep” -- as well as due to the effect of the health care excise tax. However, the Alternative Fiscal Scenario holds revenue constant at 18.4 percent of GDP after 2021, essentially assuming that policy makers will enact future additional tax cuts.

War Drawdown: By convention, CBO’s current law baseline assumes all discretionary spending — including for the wars — will grow with inflation. However, the Alternative Fiscal Scenario (as well as CRFB’s Realistic Baseline) assumes that troops will gradually be drawn down.
As you can see on the graph, the Bush tax cuts and the patch to the alternative-minimum tax are the biggest contributors to our future deficits. Ignoring the proposed freeze in domestic discretionary spending comes next. Then there’s the doc fix, and a future cap on revenue that holds taxes to 18.4 percent of GDP.

I want to be very clear: The do-nothing scenario is not the best way to solve our deficit problems. It raises taxes too high, and does too little to reduce health-care costs in a sustainable way. The Medicare cuts are completely unmanageable. But if every time Congress votes to change one of those policies, it offsets the cost, our problems are solved. That means we don’t necessarily need grand bargains or debt-ceiling brinksmanship. We just need Congress to abide by PAYGO.

All of which goes to a point I’ve made before: We don’t really have a deficit problem. We have a Congress problem. Congress pretends otherwise, because they don’t want to take the blame for the deficit-effects of the legislation they plan to vote for, but that’s the truth of it.