Psst, Angela. It's time to listen to Carly Rae Jepsen on the euro crisis. She's a savant about it.
(Reuters/Kasia Cieplak-von Baldegg)
Hey, she's a popstar, and this is crazy, but is Carly Rae Jepsen a euro crisis genius, maybe?
I know, I know. The only thing more maddening than "Call Me Maybe" is the euro crisis. One is a banal string of saccharine statements, punctuated by swift choruses of action. The other is a pop song. And neither willgoaway.
But the lyrical stylings of Carly Rae Jepsen just might be a Rosetta Stone for the euro crisis. And you don't even have to play the record backwards to get the secret message.
First, let's make sure we'll all on equal footing. I'm jealous of the lucky few still unfamiliar with the earworm that is "Call Me Maybe." But I'm also spiteful. So here's the music video. You're welcome.
What a euro crisis savant. If it's still not obvious what macroeconomic wisdom she's distilling in these sugary beats, here are the eight lines from "Call Me Maybe" that best explain the euro crisis. Why eight? Because Carly Rae Jespen works in mysterious ways.
"I threw a wish in the well, don't ask me I'll never tell."
Europe had a dream. That dream was itself. It was of an integrated continent, of a United States of Europe. How it would get there? Nobody was ready to tell the full story.
There was an underlying logic to integration -- a logic that George Soros has pointed out is now broken. That logic was that Europe would use any crisis of integration to push integration further. But that process went into reverse in the fall of 2008. German chancellor Angela Merkel declared that each euro zone country was on its own when it came to bailing out its banks -- driving a stake through the heart of the common currency.
Now Europe faces a catch-22. The only way to save the euro is for Germany to agree to some kind of joint debt. But Germany doesn't want to give southern Europe money without getting a say over how that money is spent. And southern Europe doesn't want to give Germany a say over how it spends money -- unless it's for a genuine fiscal union. So round and round we go.
"I trade my soul for a wish, pennies and dimes for a kiss."
Southern Europe has traded budget cuts and labor market reforms for money. Some of that money has come from Germany. Some of it has come from the ECB.
This makes less sense than you think. The ECB is only supposed to have one job. That's maintaining price stability, defined as 2 percent annual inflation. But the ECB has unofficially abandoned this single mandate. No, it doesn't care about jobs! It cares about politics. Specifically, whether countries are doing what Germany has demanded. This is crazy, definitely.
Countries that pass the ECB's test get lower borrowing costs. Countries that don't, well, don't. Actually, that's not always true. Even countries that play nice aren't always rewarded. Ask Spain. Meanwhile, the economy is screaming for the ECB to do something, anything more.
"I wasn't looking for this, but now you're in my way."
Both Carly Rae Jepsen and history have well-developed senses of irony. The second Ms. Jepsen stops looking for love, she finds it -- only to belatedly discover that her crush isn't interested in the ladies. Meanwhile, the one time Germany didn't try to take over Europe, the continent landed in its lap.
This historical twist hasn't escaped George Soros. He sees the euro zone turning into a German feudal state. Creditors make the rules in a debt crisis. But remember: Germany didn't want this. That's why they've been so reluctant to do what needs to be done. The danger is that they'll wait too long -- that a political backlash in southern Europe will develop before Germany is ready to accede to eurobonds. Then the euro would die a chaotic death.
"It's hard to look right at you, baby."
Is there any doubt Carly Rae Jepsen is really talking about Spanish bank balance sheets here? Spain was Europe's Florida. It had a huge housing bubble. Then it had a huge housing bust -- but not enough of one. They've been much slower to admit how far housing prices need to fall. That's allowed banks to keep holding assets at waaaay overinflated values -- until recently. Now the game of pretend is ending and the game of bailouts is beginning. Ugly stuff. Look away.
"You took your time with the call, I took no time with the fall, you gave me nothing at all."
You won't find a more plaintive lament for Europe's periphery than this. During the boom years, capital poured into southern Europe. But then Lehman failed, the money spigot turned off, and southern Europe fell. Germany hasn't exactly rushed to bail them out.
Actually, it's a bit misleading to call them "bailouts". They're loans. Low-interest rate loans, but loans nonetheless. And loans that are often senior to other debt. That makes private investors wary about putting more capital on the line, because they're first in line for the inevitable losses. It's increased their debt, and made that debt riskier. In other words, they've basically gotten nothing at all.
"I beg and borrow and steal."
Sometimes even the cryptic Carly Rae Jepsen speaks plainly. This is one of those times. The line above is clearly about Greece.
For years, the government lied about the size of its budget deficits -- with some help from Goldman Sachs -- until reality finally intruded in 2009. That's when the begging and borrowing began in earnest.
Now Greece may find out if beggars really can't be choosers. The far-left Syriza party is neck-and-neck in the polls thanks to its platform to renegotiate Greece's bailout loans while remaining in the euro zone. Their calculus is that beggars with a trillion euros of leverage can indeed be choosers. It's a dangerous game of chicken, with the future of the euro potentially hanging in the balance.
"I didn't know I would feel it, but it's in my way."
Poor Italy. It's actually been responsible since the euro was introduced Italy has managed to stabilize its debt and move towards a primary surplus -- meaning that it's in the black minus interest payments -- despite its stagnating economy. And Italy did all that with Silvio Berlusconi as its prime minister. That deserves some sort of prize. But instead of a prize, Italy has gotten euro contagion. With Spain on the ropes, Italy is next.
"Before you came into my life I missed you so bad."
Ms. Jepsen isn't quite as paradoxical as she sounds. It's easy to miss something before it comes into your life -- if it leaves and then returns. Like Spain's peseta. Or Italy's lira.
The euro should be a real four-letter word nowadays. It prevents troubled countries from printing or borrowing money at the most inopportune time. And it makes them solve their uncompetitiveness problems in the most painful way possible: with wage cuts. Instead of devaluing the peseta, Spain has to force workers to take pay cuts in euros. That's an economic disaster. It makes both debt problems and unemployment worse.
The peseta is sounding better and better.
See, "Call Me Maybe" is really a deep meditation on the nature and ironies of the euro crisis. So here's a modest proposal. Let's lock up Angela Merkel et. al. in a room playing "Call Me Maybe" on repeat. They can't leave until they absorb Ms. Jepsen's insight and reach some of kind of deal. Or go crazy.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
Homosexuality might be partly driven by a mother’s immune response to her male fetus—which increases with each son she has.
Here’s what we know: Homosexuality is normal. Between 2 and 11 percent of human adults report experiencing some homosexual feelings, though the figure varies widely depending on the survey.
Homosexuality exists across cultures and even throughout the animal kingdom, as the authors of a mammoth new review paper on homosexuality write. Between 6 and 10 percent of rams prefer to mount other rams, not ewes. Certain groups of female Japanese monkeys prefer the company of other females:
In certain populations, female Japanese macaques will sometimes choose other females as sexual partners despite the presence of sexually motivated male mates. Female Japanese macaques will even compete intersexually with males for exclusive access to female sexual partners.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Silicon Valley’s new member of Congress has some big ideas for combatting wage stagnation.
Ro Khanna has a $1 trillion plan to fatten Americans’ wallets.
The newly elected member of Congress, who represents Silicon Valley, has become a loud progressive voice on the Hill during his brief tenure there. The way he sees it, Democrats have failed by not offering families a radical plan to end wage stagnation and bring prosperity to the middle class once again. He is working on a bill he believes will do just that, by boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide as much as $6,000 a year for individuals and $12,000 for families. (That would roughly double the maximum payout for families, and increase it tenfold for childless workers.) The plan is being heralded as a move towards a universal basic income in the United States, and Khanna hopes to pair it with efforts to move federal jobs out of Washington, expand universities and colleges, and encourage investment in depressed communities. Such a moonshot effort is not going anywhere soon, he concedes. But it would at the very least demonstrate to voters that Democrats had something new and bold to offer them.
A CFPB investigation concluded that Transunion and Equifax deceived Americans about the reports they provided and the fees they charged.
In personal finance, practically everything can turn on one’s credit score. It’s both an indicator of one’s financial past, and the key to accessing necessities—without insane costs—in the future. But on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.
In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not. The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products, using promotions that suggested that their credit reports were either free or cost only $1. According to the CFPB the agencies did not properly disclose that after a trial of seven to 30 days, individuals would be enrolled in a full-price subscription, which could total $16 or more per month. The Bureau also found Equifax to be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which states that the agencies must provide one free report every 12 months made available at a central site. Before viewing their free report, consumers were forced to view advertisements for Equifax, which is prohibited by law.
President Trump, in an interview with Reuters, also said while he would “love to solve things diplomatically … it’s very difficult.”
President Trump says “[t]here is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.” The comments, which were made to Reuters in an interview, come two days after senior members of his administration, in a joint statement, tried to defuse tensions with the communist state, saying the U.S. remained open to talks.
Trump suggested in the interview that while he would “love to solve things diplomatically … it’s very difficult.” The subject of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program has been a U.S. priority since at least the Clinton administration—though efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula began during the George H.W. Bush administration. But despite bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts undertaken by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, North Korea’s nuclear technology has improved, and many experts believe that it could be capable of firing a nuclear-armed missile that could reach Seattle in the next few years.
How did orthodontia—expensive, painful, and often medically unnecessary—become so popular? An Object Lesson.
For much of my childhood, around once a year or so, my parents would drive me across town to a new orthodontist’s office, where they’d receive yet another written recommendation for braces to send to our insurance provider. After the company inevitably declined to cover the cost, for any one of a dozen reasons—my teeth were moving too much, or they weren’t in enough disorder, or they were in too much disorder to make braces worthwhile without some surgery—we’d immediately start strategizing for the next year.
Today, some 4 million Americans are wearing braces, according to the American Association of Orthodontists, and the number has roughly doubled in the U.S. between 1982 and 2008. The dental braces we know today—a series of stainless-steel brackets fixed to each tooth and anchored by bands around the molars, surrounded by thick wire to apply pressure to the teeth—date to the early 1900s. But cultural and social concerns about crooked teeth are much older than that.
Preeminent scientists are warning about serious threats to human life in the not-distant future, including climate change and superintelligent computers. Most people don't care.
Sometimes Stephen Hawking writes an article that both mentions Johnny Depp and strongly warns that computers are an imminent threat to humanity, and not many people really care. That is the day there is too much on the Internet. (Did the computers not want us to see it?)
Hawking, along with MIT physics professorMax Tegmark, Nobel laureateFrank Wilczek, and Berkeley computer science professor Stuart Russell ran a terrifying op-ed a couple weeks ago in The Huffington Post under the staid headline "Transcending Complacency on Superintelligent Machines." It was loosely tied to the Depp sci-fi thriller Transcendence, so that’s what’s happening there. "It's tempting to dismiss the notion of highly intelligent machines as mere science fiction," they write. "But this would be a mistake, and potentially our worst mistake in history."
As the president nears his hundredth day in office, he seems increasingly concerned about how he’ll measure up.
As he approaches his hundredth day in office, Donald Trump appears to be suffering—once again—from an acute case of presidential status anxiety.
In public, of course, he has labored to play it cool, strenuously insisting (and insisting, and insisting) that he does not care about the “first hundred days” metric that historians and pundits have used to evaluate the success of new administrations since FDR. Trump has called this milestone “ridiculous” and “artificial”—a meaningless media fixation. And yet, the less-than-laudatory press reviews seem to have left him seething. For evidence, look no further than the president’s pathos-drenched Twitter feed, where he recently took to vent, “No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!”