Repackaging the Bush agenda, just with austerity, is not the path to prosperity.
Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard apparently has a very short memory.
In a Wall Street Journalop-ed making the case for Romney's economic agenda, Hubbard presents a strikingly ahistorical account of the past few years -- not to mention sprinkling in one big questionable assumption. Let's take a tour of some of the lowlights.
"We are currently in the most anemic economic recovery in the memory of most Americans."
Does the memory of most Americans go back a decade? If it does, then they can remember a more anemic recovery -- at least when it comes to jobs. The post-2001 recovery had the slowest job growth of any postwar recovery. It also had the slowest private sector growth of any postwar recovery. It's puzzling that Hubbard doesn't remember this, considering that he was the chair of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisors from 2001 to 2003.
Now, the economy did grow faster then than it has now. But that's because the government grew as much as it did then; it's shrinking now. Really. So why does this weak recovery feel weaker than that weak recovery? Well, the tech bubble recession was much milder than the housing bubble recession -- in other words, we're in a deeper hole this time around. All else equal, we would expect a better recovery from a worse recession, but all else is not equal. As Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff has shown with over 800 years of data, recoveries from financial crises are long, slow slogs. It's doubtful that recycling Bush-era policies will get us out of this ditch faster. It didn't ten years ago.
"[U]ncertainty over policy--particularly over tax and regulatory policy--slowed the recovery and limited job creation. One recent study by Scott Baker and Nicholas Bloom of Stanford University and Steven Davis of the University of Chicago found that this uncertainty reduced GDP by 1.4% in 2011 alone."
Well, that certainly sounds bad. When did all of this uncertainty peak? Let's look at the paper. August of 2011. Hmmm. What happened in August of 2011? Oh, that's right. The debt ceiling debacle. Why don't we let the authors speak for themselves. Here's why they said uncertainty was so elevated in 2011:
A series of later developments and policy fights - including the debt- ceiling dispute between Republicans and Democrats in the summer of 2011, and ongoing banking and sovereign debt crises in the Eurozone area - kept economic policy uncertainty at very high levels throughout 2011.
In other words, a debt crisis the Republicans manufactured and a debt crisis the Europeans manufactured drove uncertainty in 2011. Granted, tax uncertainty has been bad -- but so has monetary policy uncertainty. And have you noticed what we haven't talked about yet? The authors conclude that healthcare and financial regulation uncertainty were "much less pronounced" than all of the above questions.
And according to the Congressional Budget Office, the large deficits codified in the president's budget would reduce GDP during 2018-2022 by between 0.5% and 2.2% compared to what would occur under current law. [...]
The governor's plan would reduce federal spending as a share of GDP to 20%--its pre-crisis average--by 2016. This would dramatically reduce policy uncertainty over the need for future tax increases, thus increasing business and consumer confidence. [...]
The Romney plan would reduce individual marginal income tax rates across the board by 20%, while keeping current low tax rates on dividends and capital gains. The governor would also reduce the corporate income tax rate--the highest in the world--to 25%. In addition, he would broaden the tax base to ensure that tax reform is revenue-neutral.
Hubbard says that 1) Medium-run deficits are bad for medium-run growth, 2) Romney will cut public spending, which will increase private spending, and 3) Romney will lower tax rates and eliminate tax loopholes while keeping tax revenues the same. Individually, these might make sense. Together, they're the economic equivalent of saying two plus two equals five.
Let's unpack this fiscal mess. Romney wants to cut taxes, but he also wants to cut medium-run deficits too. That's a problem. His answer: He won't cut taxes, but tax rates -- while cutting spending too. But this creates new problems. For one, it means his tax plan will raise taxes on the bottom 95 percent, while cutting them for the top 5 percent. For another, it leaves Romney stuck embracing spending cuts that will hurt the economy.
Expansionary austerity is a myth, at least in the short-term. That was the conclusion the IMF reached in a 2011 paper that examined 173 cases of fiscal retrenchment over the past 30 years. On average, cutting the deficit by 1 percent of GDP led to a 0.5 percentage point increase in unemployment -- with private spending falling in tandem with public spending. Austerity can work over the longer-term, as long as interest rates or the currency falls to offset the fall in government spending. But interest rates are already at zero, and Republicans aren't too keen about quantitative easing or that whole "dollar depreciation" thing. That leaves the Romney camp with one final reason why cutting government spending would lead to more spending overall: Ricardian equivalence. It's the idea that the private sector spends less when the public sector borrows more, because households know that eventually the government will have to raise taxes to pay for that borrowing. The empirical evidence on this is mixed -- after all, few households 1) know enough about the deficit to predict what will happen to their taxes, or 2) have enough disposable income or access to borrowing to smooth their lifetime spending. That's not to say that there isn't something to it, but that it's a flimsy hope for the catch-up growth we need.
I don't mean to pick on Glenn Hubbard. He has plenty of good ideas about how to get the economy moving again -- like mass refinancing for mortgages owned by Fannie and Freddie. But repackaging the Bush agenda, just updated with austerity, is not the path to prosperity.
His convention speech re-introducing his wife to the country was an uneven, but ultimately effective, performance.
Just before Bill Clinton strode onstage to be his wife’s character witness, his wife’s convention planners played a video tribute to him. “When he said stuff, you believed it,” a man dressed in union gear said of Bill Clinton, “because you lived it.”
This was no accident: An overwhelming number of voters don’t trust Hillary Clinton. That credibility and character gap is the one thing that might stop Americans from electing a second President Clinton. And so the master of persuasion bragged on and on about his wife: career highlights, familiar anecdotes, and enough warm and cheesy sentiments to launch a thousand wedding toasts.
“If you were sitting where I am sitting and you heard what I heard at every dinner conversation and … on every long walk, you would say this woman has never been satisfied with the status quo about anything,” Bill Clinton said. Having been the candidate of change in 1992, Bill Clinton knows his wife faces headwinds against Donald Trump’s promise of radical, unruly change. “She always wants to move the ball forward,” Bill Clinton said. “That just who she is.”
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
Why Donald Trump’s recent comments on the alliance caused such an uproar
Donald Trump shocked foreign-policy professionals and observers when he remarked to The New York Times that if he were president, the United States might not come to the defense of an attacked NATO ally that hadn’t fulfilled its “obligation to make payments.” The remark broke with decades of bipartisan commitment to the alliance and, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic, aligned well with the interests of Russia, whose ambitions NATO was founded largely to contain. One Republican in Congress openly wondered whether his party’s nominee could be “seemingly so pro-Russia” because of “connections and contracts and things from the past or whatever.”
It’s not unlike Trump to make shocking statements. But these ones stokedparticularalarm, not least among America’s allies, about the candidate’s suitability for the United States presidency. So what’s the big deal? What does NATO actually do?
In his convention speech, he suggested that Muslims need to earn the rights that all other Americans enjoy.
I love Bill Clinton. But I didn’t love his speech Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Given the job of humanizing his wife, he came across as genuinely smitten. But he failed to do what he’s done in every convention speech he’s delivered since 1992: tell a story about where America is today and what can be done to move it forward. He called his wife a great “change maker” but didn’t define the change America needs right now.
But the worst moment of the speech came near its end, when Clinton began to riff about the different kinds of people who should join Hillary’s effort. “If you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes, you’re obeying the law and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over someone that wants to send you back,” he said. Fair enough. Under any conceivable immigration overhaul, only those undocumented immigrants who have obeyed the law once in the United States—which includes paying taxes—will qualify for citizenship. Two sentences later, Clinton said that, “If you’re a young African American disillusioned and afraid … help us build a future where no one’s afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.” No problem there. Of course African Americans should be safe from abusive police, and of course, police should be safe from the murderers who threaten them.
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
Four decades after he asked his wife to set aside her own ambitions, he asked Americans to return her to the White House in her own right.
On Tuesday night, Bill Clinton spoke before thousands of delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and did his best to repay a debt he’d incurred 45 years before. He met Hillary in 1971, and she married him four years later. “I really hope,” he said, “that her choosing me and rejecting my advice to pursue her own career was a decision she would never regret.”
Now, as she pursues the presidency in her own right, he took the opportunity to reintroduce her to the public, spending most of his time on stage rehearsing the years before she became a national figure. “Cartoons are two-dimensional,” Clinton said, and did his best to render his wife vivid, human, and real.
It was a speech that aimed to move past some of the central paradoxes of Clinton’s candidacy. She sacrificed her ambitions to advance her husband’s career, but his success has now enabled her own rise. Most Americans view her unfavorably, and yet she has just become the first woman to be a major-party nominee for the president.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Psychologists have long debated how flexible someone’s “true” self is.
Almost everyone has something they want to change about their personality. In 2014, a study that traced people’s goals for personality change found that the vast majority of its subjects wanted to be more extraverted, agreeable, emotionally stable, and open to new experiences. A whopping 97 percent said they wished they were more conscientious.
These desires appeared to be rooted in dissatisfaction. People wanted to become more extraverted if they weren’t happy with their sex lives, hobbies, or friendships. They wanted to become more conscientious if they were displeased with their finances or schoolwork. The findings reflect the social psychologist Roy Baumeister’s notion of “crystallization of discontent”: Once people begin to recognize larger patterns of shortcomings in their lives, he contends, they may reshuffle their core values and priorities to justify improving things.