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.
We're all going to die and we all know it. This can be both a burden and a blessing.
In the heart of every parent lives the tightly coiled nightmare that his child will die. It might spring at logical times—when a toddler runs into the street, say—or it might sneak up in quieter moments. The fear is a helpful evolutionary motivation for parents to protect their children, but it's haunting nonetheless.
The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus advised parents to indulge that fear. “What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die?”he wrote in his Discourses.
Some might say Epictetus was an asshole. William Irvine thinks he was on to something.
“The Stoics had the insight that the prospect of death can actually make our lives much happier than they would otherwise be,” he says. “You’re supposed to allow yourself to have a flickering thought that someday you’re going to die, and someday the people you love are going to die. I’ve tried it, and it’s incredibly powerful. Well, I am a 21st-century practicing Stoic.”
People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.
This week, in a much-anticipated sketch on her Comedy Central show, Amy Schumer staged a trial of Bill Cosby in “the court of public opinion.” Schumer—her character, at any rate—played the role of the defense. “Let’s remind ourselves what’s at stake here,” she argued to the jury. “If convicted, the next time you put on a rerun of The Cosby Show you may wince a little. Might feel a little pang. And none of us deserve that. We don’t deserve to feel that pang.”
Her conclusion? “We deserve to dance like no one’s watching, and watch like no one’s raping.”
Ooof. This is the kind of thing that gets Inside Amy Schumer referred to as “the most feminist show on television,” and her act in general called, in a phrase that reveals as much about her craft as about Schumer herself, “comedy with a message.” But while Schumer’s work is operating at the vanguard of popular comedy, it’s also in line with the work being done by her fellow performers: jokes that tend to treat humor not just as an end in itself, but as a vehicle for making a point. Watch like no one’s raping.
Some spoiler-y speculation on the final three episodes
With only three episodes left to go, Game of Thrones looks as though it once again has a lot of ground to cover before wrapping up a season. And so, for the curious and impatient among you, I’ll do my best to offer some quasi-informed speculation about what we might reasonably expect in these final weeks.
Note: I haven’t seen any of the remaining episodes, but I have read the books. The first five items below are spoiler-y, but the predictions in them do not derive from the George R. R. Martin novels. Rather, they’re guesswork based on what’s already happened on the show and on tidbits scattered across the web: a behind-the-scenes photo here, a close-read of a trailer there. (They could all, of course, turn out to be completely wrong.) The last four items, however, are based at least in part on events that take place in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, so non-book-readers may want to skip them. And obviously anyone, book-reader or not, who’d prefer to go into these final episodes without preconceptions—who doesn’t want to know at least some of what will (probably) happen—should stop reading now.
The former speaker of the House is charged with lying to federal agents and evading financial reporting requirements, reportedly while attempting to conceal past sexual misconduct.
Updated on May 29, 2015, at 4:05 p.m.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been indicted on charges of lying to FBI agents and evading federal financial-reporting requirements, reportedly while paying a man to cover up past sexual misconduct.
Hastert, an Illinois Republican, was speaker from 1999 to 2007. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton notes that there were several high-profile congressional scandals in those years. Illinois is also a notorious hotbed for political corruption, as Roland Burris, Rod Blagojevich, George Ryan, and Jesse Jackson Jr. can attest.
But Hastert’s indictment seems to involve a darker story than political corruption. In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
Can a political system be democratically legitimate without being democratic?
The flaws in China’s political system are obvious. The government doesn’t even make a pretense of holding national elections and punishes those who openly call for multiparty rule. The press is heavily censored and the Internet is blocked. Top leaders are unconstrained by the rule of law. Even more worrisome, repression has been ramped up since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, suggesting that the regime is increasingly worried about its legitimacy.
Some China experts—most recently David Shambaugh of George Washington University—interpret these ominous signs as evidence that the Chinese political system is on the verge of collapse. But such an outcome is highly unlikely in the near future. The Communist Party is firmly in power, its top leader is popular, and no political alternative currently claims widespread support. And what would happen if the Party’s power did indeed crumble? The most likely result, in my view, would be rule by a populist strongman backed by elements of the country’s security and military forces. The new ruler might seek to buttress his legitimacy by launching military adventures abroad. President Xi would look tame by comparison.
An activist has made it so in France. Could he take his campaign global?
In 2010, U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores threw out 43 billion pounds, or $46.7 billion worth, of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But if Arash Derambarsh had his way, that number would be zero. His goals are ambitious, but then again the municipal councilor from Courbevoie, France did manage to get a law passed in France last week that would accomplish just that.
The law bans supermarkets in France from discarding or destroying unsold food. According to Salon’s Lindsay Abrams, the law mandates that all unsold but edible food should be donated to charities for immediate distribution to the poor. Food that is unsafe to eat is to be donated to farms for agricultural purposes. Supermarkets that exceed a certain square footage are required to sign contacts with charities by July 2016; penalties for failing to do so include fines of up to roughly $81,600 or two years in prison. The legislation is one of the world’s first attempts to address the twin problems of food waste and hunger in this manner.
A challenge based on four words of the law amounts to little more than politics dressed up as a legal argument.
The Supreme Court is about to decide another blockbuster case arising under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The specific issue is whether federal-tax subsidies are available to people who purchase health insurance from exchanges operated by the federal government or instead whether such subsidies are available only from exchanges established by the states. A decision in favor of the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell would most likely cripple the ACA in over thirty states and deprive millions of people of health insurance.
That the Supreme Court even agreed to hear the case is the result of an improbable conjunction of events. Two committed opponents of the ACA seized upon four words of the law out of almost 1000 pages, and through their persistent and energetic work, created a powerful soundbite that appealed to die-hard opponents of the ACA. They then took that sound bite and dressed it up in highly technical arguments about statutory interpretation that might well change how healthcare is paid for in the United States. But the soundbite is inaccurate, and the technical window dressing shouldn’t obscure the fact that the argument is based on a faulty reading of the text of the entire law as well as a misleading account of how and why the law was passed. At bottom, King v. Burwell is a political challenge to the ACA dressed up in legal garb.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life.
Caves and tunnels have always been part of human life. We've grown more adept at shaping these underground shelters and passages over the millennia, and today we dig for hundreds of reasons. We excavate to find both literal and cultural treasures, digging mines and unearthing archaeological discoveries. We use caverns for stable storage, for entertainment, and for an effective shelter from natural and man-made disasters. And as the planet's surface becomes ever more crowded, and national borders are closed, tunnels provide pathways for our vehicles and for smugglers of every kind. Collected below are more recent subterranean scenes from around the world.
The danger of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer without a suicide switch
Imagine a supercomputer so advanced that it could hold the contents of a human brain. The Google engineer Ray Kurzweil famously believes that this will be possible by 2045. Organized technologists are seeking to transfer human personalities to non-biological carriers, “extending life, including to the point of immortality.” My gut says that they’ll never get there. But say I’m wrong. Were it possible, would you upload the contents of your brain to a computer before death, extending your conscious moments on this earth indefinitely? Or would you die as your ancestors did, passing into nothingness or an unknown beyond human comprehension?
The promise of a radically extended lifespan, or even immortality, would tempt many. But it seems to me that they’d be risking something very much like hell on earth.