Rubio's call for a single mandate for the Federal Reserve is a dangerous, and potentially disastrous, idea. Unless that single mandate is targeting nominal GDP instead of inflation.
Marco Rubio wants to be president, and unfortunately for him that means he's supposed to have an opinion about everything. I say unfortunately because Rubio has had a hard enough time figuring out the age of the earth, let alone one of the great mysteries like what the Fed should be doing now. The latter came up during Rubio's acceptance speech at the Jack Kemp foundation, and, as Dave Weigel of Slate reports, it did not go well. Hey, he's not a central banker, man.
A long time ago in an administration far, far away, the Republicans were the party of Milton Friedman. It was 2004. As Paul Krugman points out, then-chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Greg Mankiw advocated aggressive monetary policy as a way to mitigate recessions. This was economic boilerplate, but it was only boilerplate because of Friedman. After the Great Depression, economists didn't think central banks could do much to revive the economy if interest rates fell to zero -- the so-called liquidity trap -- and monetary policy consequently took a backseat to fiscal policy when it came to demand management. Friedman reversed this. He and Anna Schwarz argued the Great Depression was only so great because the Fed's inaction made it so. In other words, central banks were only powerless if they thought they were. They could do plenty, even in a liquidity trap, if they just printed money and promised to keep printing money -- what we rather prosaically call "quantitative easing" nowadays. It was a message conservatives could, and did, love. The government didn't need to spend more to stabilize the economy during a downturn as long as the Fed did its job.
And then the Great Recession happened.
With interest rates stuck at zero and the economy stuck in a growth slump, we're very much back in Friedman's world. But now conservatives aren't so sure about that "aggressive monetary policy" thing anymore. Zero interest rates just seem wrong, and quantitative easing must be a big government bailout on the road to Zimbabwe -- at least that's what they've told themselves, despite stubbornly low inflation. Of course, some conservatives claim inflation is "really" much higher than the government says, but, as Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review points out, this conspiracy theory doesn't withstand much more than two seconds of scrutiny.
This paranoid style in monetary policy has inspired a rather odd political crusade -- the crusade against the Fed's dual mandate. Most central banks are only tasked with worrying about inflation, but the Fed is tasked with worrying about inflation and unemployment. (Or, in Fed-speak, fostering the maximum level of employment consistent with price stability). This has become a bête noire for conservatives, because they think that were it not for the Fed caring about unemployment -- the horror! -- then it wouldn't have expanded its balance sheet so much, and that this expanded balance sheet will inevitably mean higher inflation down the road. Apparently Marco Rubio is one of these conservatives who sees the stagflationary 1970s around every corner. Here's what he said to say about the Fed.
Sound monetary policy would also encourage middle class job creation. The arbitrary way in which interest rates and our currency are treated is yet another cause of unpredictability injected into our economy. The Federal Reserve Board should publish and follow a clear monetary rule -- to provide greater stability about prices and what the value of a dollar will be over time.
Translation: Repeal the dual mandate and replace it with a single mandate for inflation only. This is all kinds of uninformed. As we have pointed out before, inflation has been lower with over four times less variance since Congress gave the Fed its dual mandate in 1978. And with inflation mostly undershooting its 2 percent target since Lehman failed, it's not as if the Fed even needed the dual mandate to justify easing -- a sole inflation mandate would have been enough.
But Rubio is right that the Fed needs a better, clearer monetary rule nowadays. That's not to say that Fed policy has been arbitrary, but just that its rule needs some modernizing. For most of the so-called Great Moderation, the Fed followed something close to a Taylor rule, setting policy based on inflation and unemployment, and it served the Fed well. Greg Mankiw has his own simple version of a Taylor rule, which Paul Krugman tweaked slightly, that gives us a good idea of how the Fed thought then, as you can see below.
You can see why the Great Moderation gave way to the Great Recession. Our Taylor rule says the Fed should have made interest rates negative in late 2008, but the Fed can't make interest rates negative. Well, at least not nominal rates. The Fed can increase inflation, which reduces real rates, to get borrowing costs to where they "should" be -- which is what Ben Bernanke has done, in fits and starts, the past four years. You can see all these fits and starts in the chart below that compares our same Taylor rule to Fed policy since 2006. It's not easy to get real rates down to -7 percent.
There have been far too many fits and not nearly enough starts since 2008. Yes, the Fed tried unconventional easing in late 2008, early 2009, late 2010, late 2011 and late 2012, but it should have been easing this whole time. The Taylor rule has been negative this whole time, which means that the Fed should have been cutting interest rates, and cutting them a lot, this whole time. Instead, we got zero rates. Because inflation hasn't been that far off target, Bernanke has had a hard time convincing the rest of the FOMC to go along with quantitative easing -- so easing has been far less quantitative than the situation calls for. In other words, policy hasn't quite been arbitrary as much as ad hoc, with the unhappy result being an era of tight money.
Imagine the Fed had a single mandate, but not for inflation. Imagine instead the Fed had a single mandate for the total size of the economy, which goes by the unwieldy name of nominal GDP (NGDP). During the Great Moderation, NGDP grew about 5 percent a year, but it's only grown about 2.85 percent a year since 2008. If the Fed had an NGDP target of 5 percent a year, and was supposed to make up for any over-or-undershooting, it would have been aggressively easing the entire time since 2008. It's a dual mandate that doesn't get confused by low inflation and low growth.
In a dreary European city, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
An influential journalist who supports the presidential candidate offers an unusually naked defense of her ends-justify-the-means approach to public life.
An influential progressive writer published a blunt assessment of Hillary Clinton this week, declaring her unusually willing to transgress against civic and legal standards.
“From her adventures in cattle trading to chairing a policymaking committee in her husband's White House to running for Senate in a state she’d never lived in to her effort to use superdelegates to overturn 2008 primary results to her email servers,” Matthew Yglesias declared at Vox.com, “Clinton is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas.”
He goes on to flesh out those examples and to offer still more:
There was no winnable Senate race for her to enter in Illinois or Arkansas in 2000, so she ran in New York instead. Barack Obama forbade her from employing Sidney Blumenthal at the State Department, so she employed him at her family's foundation instead. Sandy Berger faced criminal penalties for destroying classified documents at the National Archives, but that didn't stop Clinton from informally employing him as an adviser on sensitive Middle East peace negotiations.
She decides what she wants to do, in other words, and then she sets about finding a way to do it...
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.
Many films seek to dramatize the Red Planet’s harsh landscape as a romantic frontier, but The Martian is one that actually succeeds.
In most space movies, the villain is the void. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the supercomputer HAL flushes astronauts out into the airless vacuum; in Gravity, Sandra Bullock fights to navigate her way home before running out of air; in Interstellar, explorers are at the mercy of a gargantuan black hole. The underlying tension of any film set in space is that knife-edge between life and death.
Not so on Mars. While space is an alien landscape, Mars is always a recognizably human one, warped to the harshest extremes: Survival is within reach, but complicated by the elements, or natives, or both. In the subgenre’s newest and best entry, The Martian, the most nerve-wracking moment doesn’t involve any zero-gravity derring-do, but rather the astronaut Mark Watney’s potato farm.
A radical experiment at Zappos may herald the emergence of a new, more democratic kind of organization.
Deeply strange reports have been emerging from the Las Vegas headquarters of Zappos, until recently the world’s happiest shoe store. This spring, by order of the CEO, Tony Hsieh, the company abolished managers, eliminated job titles, denounced its own organizational hierarchy, and vested all authority in a 10,000-word constitution that spells out a radical new system of self-governance. Holacracy, it’s called, and it makes all previous moves toward “employee empowerment” look like the mild concessions of an 18th-century monarch. Freed from direct supervision, employees are expected to join various impermanent democratic assemblies called “circles” (headed, but not run, by a “lead link”), in which they will essentially propose their own job descriptions, ratify the “roles” of others, and decide what projects the group should undertake.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
All-day breakfast undermines the true pleasure of the iconic sandwich: anticipating and then missing out on it.
The greatest luxury is the one we cannot have—or at least, the one we cannot have very often. This is the definition of luxury, really, and not just expensive, unreachable luxuries, but also cheaper, smaller ones. Thanksgiving turkey and dressing, a decadence limited to one day a year. And also, breakfast—real breakfast, with grains and eggs and meat and starch. Even at a place like McDonald’s where, as of this week, a selection of the struggling fast food figurehead’s breakfast menu, including the venerable Egg McMuffin, isavailable all day.
Let me say something heretical: The Egg McMuffin is not that great, actually. Warm but slightly wet and gooey, sloppily constructed, oozing with quasi-cheese, the slap of Canadian bacon failing to yield to incisors. But what is great is the idea of an egg McMuffin. It’s an improbable domestication of Eggs Benedict, condensing that civil dish of lazy brunches into the harried hand of the commuter or the road-tripper.
A new report details a black market in nuclear materials.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a horrifying report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” At the center of these cases, of which the AP learned of four in the past five years, was a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in a “tiny and impoverished Eastern European country”: Moldova.
It’s a new iteration of an old problem with a familiar geography. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a superpower’s worth of nuclear weapons scattered across several countries without a superpower’s capacity to keep track of them. When Harvard’s Graham Allison flagged this problem in 1996, he wrote that the collapse of Russia’s “command-and-control society” left nothing secure. To wit: