Imagine an alternate reality where the first term of President Barack Obama coincided with one of the greatest periods of government austerity in recent memory. Imagine total government spending under his watch had the steepest annual decline in three decades. Imagine total government employees fell by the fastest rate in more than 60 years. Imagine that in his last two years, federal spending and federal employment grew by the slowest annual rate since the 1950s.
Now open your eyes. Welcome to Austerity USA. Total government employment -- that's federal, state, and local -- has indeed fallen by the sharpest annual rate since the 1940s. It's now at 2006 levels and declining.
Total government spending has fallen by the sharpest rate since the 1970s. It is now at 2008 levels and declining.
Meanwhile in Washington, federal spending (which has grown every year since then 1960s) is increasing at its slowest pace in half a century, and federal employment is in true decline. Eighteen months removed from the start of the Census, it's shrinking at its fastest rate since the mid-1950s.
Obama's tenure has coincided with a recession that shrunk total government in two ways. First, the economics of the Great Recession devastated state and local government tax revenue, requiring rounds of cuts that resulted in decreased overall government spending and employment. Second, the politics of the Great Recession destroyed the case for stimulus in the aftermath of the Recovery Act, and Washington's attempts to fill the revenue holes in total government were blocked when we voted scores of fiscal conservatives into Congress in 2010. The upshot is that in the last 12 months, President Obama has presided over one of the most remarkable periods of total government austerity in the last 50 years.
Some of this austerity was given to us. Some of this austerity we chose.
As the Recovery Act, which was passed partly to offset state and local
cuts, wound down, state and local government demand fell "through
the floor," said Adam Hersh, an economist with the Center for American Progress.
"The real collapse of spending has been at the level of state and local public services and investments," Hersh said. "Even as the economy grew 4.2% since the start of the Obama administration, state and local spending contracted 5.2%." Here's the graph he shared with The Atlantic. The plunging green line tracks change in nondefense state and local spending since Obama took office.
What's the matter with shrinking government? Nothing at all, you might say. State and local governments are expensive and inefficient, and those workers might be put to better use making things rather than regulating things. Fair enough. But with interest rates now at historical lows, it's a little surprising that we're choosing this moment to not borrow more money from eager investors to spare total government from its own sharp knives and make downpayments on things we know we need, like roads and broadband. President Obama isn't fully responsible for this era of premature and self-inflicted austerity. He's the president of the United States, not the states, themselves. But, for better or worse, it's his record now. Who would have guessed?
The Party of Lincoln's nominee returned to the site of his greatest speech, to attack the faith in democratic government that Lincoln so carefully fostered.
The world still judges Lincoln by his Gettysburg Address. Now, it may judge Donald Trump the same way—but with strikingly different results.
On Saturday, Trump spoke to supporters in the small Pennsylvania town where, a century and a half before, Americans met in battle. It was a speech that, as much as any in this campaign, offered the very best of Trump, underscoring why so many Americans are drawn to his candidacy. It also offered the very worst.
He began by invoking Lincoln’s fight against division, and framed his run as dedication to something larger than himself. “When I saw the trouble that our country was in, I knew I could not stand by and watch any longer. Our country has been so good to me, I love our country, and I felt I had to act.”
Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.
On a recent evening in San Francisco, Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, took a name tag from a man in pajamas called “Honey Bear” and wrote down his pseudonym for the night: “Presence.”
Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” He keeps the background set to an image of Scrabble tiles spelling out the words face down, a reminder of the device’s optimal position.
Late to this for family reasons, but catching up on an actually astonishing development:
Through the campaign, Donald Trump at times seemed more interested in promoting his business interests than in advancing a political campaign. He took time off this summer to fly to Scotland and tout the opening of a new Trump golf resort. He turned what was billed as a major campaign announcement into a promo for his new DC hotel. A surprisingly large share of the money he’s raised for his campaign’s expenditures has gone to his own businesses (notably Mar-a-Lago).
That is why today’s story, in Travel and Leisure, is so piquant and O. Henry-like. What Trump might have imagined would further burnish his personal brand may in fact be poisoning it. T&L reports that Trump’s new hotels will no longer carry his name!!! Instead they’ll be called “Scion.” Groan, given the actual scions, but fascinating in its own way. From T&L:
These are some reading recommendations that will hopefully provide a deeper look at some of these issues. Books may seem like small comfort. But in a time like this, when it’s hard to understand how American culture became so hate-filled, reading is probably the best possible option—to get off the internet, pick up a book, and think about how the country has gotten here.
What use is there today for one of the oldest virtues?
As many Americans go about their days, I imagine they have two little angels perched on their shoulders, whispering conflicting messages about happiness and material wealth. One angel is embodied by James Altucher, a minimalist self-help guru recently profiled by The New York Times. Altucher claims to have only 15 possessions, after having unburdened himself a few months ago of 40 garbage bags’ worth of stuff and never looking back. As I read about Altucher, I rolled the numbers 15 and 40 over in my mind, thinking about the belongings in my bedroom and the garbage bags under my kitchen sink.
The other angel is Tyler Brûlé, the editor in chief of the fantastically high-end lifestyle magazine Monocle and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the sort of writer who tosses off such lines as “I zipped along the autostrada through the Val d’Aosta with the ever-trusty Mario (my Italian driver for the past 20 years) at the wheel” with little regard for how privileged and pretentious he sounds (especially in his superfluous parentheticals). Still, there is something, I’m a little ashamed to say, that I envy about Brûlé’s effortless cosmopolitanism—which, it’s hard to miss, is only made possible by unusual wealth.
Choosing a president isn’t easy in this election, but here are three ways a principled conservative might vote.
The day of decision is nearing. All the talk fades, and one mark must be made beside one box on the ballot. Many Republicans are agonizing. They reject Donald Trump; they cannot accept Hillary Clinton. What to do?
I won’t conceal, I’m struggling with this question myself. I’ve listened to those Republicans, many my friends, who feel it their duty to stifle their anger and disappointment, and vote for Trump; to cast a protest vote for the Libertarian Gary Johnson or the independent Evan McMullin; or to cross the aisle and vote for Hillary Clinton as the lesser evil. On the way to my own personal answer, I found it helpful to summarize the best case for each of these options.
Emphasize the word “best.” If your case for Trump rests on the assumption that America is hurtling toward national doom, if your case for McMullin rests on the hope of tossing the election into the House of Representatives, if your case for Hillary argues that she is a large soul eager to work cooperatively with those who think differently from her. I’d say you are not thinking very clearly. Despair and fantasy are misleading counselors.
It’s a political constituency just coming into its own—and although many Muslims are scornful of Donald Trump, they remain skeptical of the Democratic nominee.
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—This Democratic headquarters one warm October night could have been practically anywhere in the country. Volunteers crammed into a dingy, decrepit office suite, complete with fake wood paneling from the era when Hillary Clinton still wore bell-bottoms, filling up every space—crouched over rickety tables or into corners, reciting a script as they called worked through long lists of voters, checking to see if people were supporting Hillary Clinton and whether they’d be willing to volunteer.
The only clue that this was an unusual event was sartorial: Several women wore headscarves, and a man sported a stylish kaffiyeh. The phone bank is one of dozens of Muslims for Hillary events that the Clinton campaign has arranged this year, part of what the campaign contends is an unprecedented effort to court a small but growing population.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Minneapolis’ large Somali community made it through a grueling screening process in order to enter the country. Now, earning a living in the U.S. is proving difficult for younger generations.
Donald Trump’s crusade against immigrants and refugees is not only antithetical to the American ideal of inclusion, it’s also based on a false notion. This backlash against foreigners, fueled by political rhetoric in the election, suggests that the country’s safety is at risk—largely from Muslim extremists—due to the the government’s lax vetting policies. In fact, refugees face an exhaustive screening process by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that can take years. Those who are lucky enough to make it through the process must then deal with another obstacle: a system that fails to fully integrate refugees into the American economy.
The federal government and its nonprofit partners provide job-search help and cash assistance for refugees during their first months in the United States. After that, they are largely on their own. This strategy has made it hard for refugee families—who often come to America with few assets or material possessions—to move up and out of poverty, and may be contribute to younger generations’ sense of isolation, the result of struggling to find their place in this country.
Can satellite images of our planet's varied terrain make humanity's impact apparent?
Only a handful of people have traveled into space to admire the blue marble we call home. Astronauts who have had this privilege describe the feeling of seeing the Earth from above as humbling; only from afar can one understand just how vast and interconnected everything truly is. And while most of humanity will never make it past the ozone, Benjamin Grant's Instagram project, Daily Overview, has been sharing high definition satellite photographs to give everyone access to this unique perspective. Come October 25, Grant will be publishing “Overview,” a new book that includes more than 200 original images of industry, agriculture, architecture, and nature that highlight graphically stunning patterns across the Earth’s surface. “From a distant vantage point, one has the chance to appreciate our home as a whole, to reflect on its beauty and its fragility all at once,” Grant said. He has shared a selection of those images, some of them previously unpublished, with The Atlantic.