Elections are about choices, and 2012 looks to be a big one.
It's not just a philosophical debate over the proper size and role of government. It's an economic one about stimulus versus austerity. President Obama thinks we need to make smart investments -- just don't call it stimulus! -- to get the economy moving again. Governor Romney thinks we need a smarter tax code -- just don't ask what deductions he'd eliminate -- and less spending to get the economy moving again.
In other words, Romney seems to subscribe to the doctrine of "expansionary austerity" -- that prosperity is just a few spending cuts around the corner. It's an idea that has failed rather spectacularly in Europe the past few years. And it's one that even the orthodox International Monetary Fund has warned against, at least for now.
But that seems to be news to Mitt Romney's top economic advisers. Glenn Hubbard, a professor at Columbia University and a veteran of the Bush administration, recently took to the pages of the Financial Times to apparently argue that trimming the deficit will spur growth. Emphasis on apparently. Here's what Hubbard said:
Gradual fiscal consolidation may also be stimulative in the short term. Research by Hoover Institution economists concludes that reducing federal spending relative to GDP to pre-financial crisis levels over a decade would increase GDP in the short and long term. This outcome reflects lower future tax rates and the boost from lower interest rates to investment and net exports.
Plentyof people considered this a loud (and perhaps wise) defense of austerity. It's not.
How would less government spending translate into more spending overall? The question answers itself: If the other parts of the economy subsequently spend more. Those other parts of the economy are the private sector and net exports. And what would make them spend more? Answer: Lower interest rates. When borrowing costs are lower, the private sector is --tautology alert -- more willing to borrow and invest. Think about it this way. If the cost of capital is low, the return on capital doesn't have to be that high for companies to want to invest. Lower interest rates also tend to mean a weaker dollar -- and a weaker dollar is good for trade.
That leaves one big question. Why would interest rates fall when the government spends less? There are two stories here. First, there's less "crowding out". When the government competes with the private sector to borrow money, the private sector ends up paying more to borrow. Less competition from the government means paying less to borrow. And second, the Federal Reserve might be more likely to do more if Congress does less. There are plenty of examples of this kind of austerity working -- like the United States in the 1990s.
But there's a problem. Interest rates have neverbeenlower. Cutting spending won't lower interest rates any further. For one, there isn't any crowding out now. The private sector would rather sit on cash than borrow. For another, the Fed isn't likely to do all that much more given its current paralysis. Austerity will shrink the economy in the world we live in now.
Hubbard is smart. He knows that austerity won't work without lower interest rates. And he knows that interest rates couldn't be much lower than they already are. In other words, he knows that cutting the deficit too much too soon would be a very bad idea today.
Don't let the rhetoric confuse you. Romney might say he's an austerity candidate, but his top economic advisors quietly admit that this might not be wise.
It's almost like Romney might flip flop on this if he wins.
A scientist and a monk compare notes on meditation, therapy, and their effects on the brain
Can training the mind make us more attentive, altruistic, and serene? Can we learn to manage our disturbing emotions in an optimal way? What are the transformations that occur in the brain when we practice meditation? In a new book titled Beyond the Self, two friends—Matthieu Ricard, who left a career as a molecular biologist to become a Buddhist monk in Nepal, and Wolf Singer, a distinguished neuroscientist—engage in an unusually well-matched conversation about meditation and the brain. Below is a condensed and edited excerpt.
Matthieu Ricard: Although one ﬁnds in the Buddhist literature many treatises on “traditional sciences”—medicine, cosmology, botanic, logic, and so on—Tibetan Buddhism has not endeavored to the same extent as Western civilizations to expand its knowledge of the world through the natural sciences. Rather it has pursued an exhaustive investigation of the mind for 2,500 years and has accumulated, in an empirical way, a wealth of experiential ﬁndings over the centuries. A great number of people have dedicated their whole lives to this contemplative science.
The GOP succeeded in delivering on many of its promises. But the new code, which Congress will vote on this week, will not be as lasting, or as simplified, as they’d hoped.
The legislation congressional Republicans finalized on Friday and are likely to enact next week delivers on many of the party’s—and President Trump’s— promises for a landmark overhaul of the tax code. But the rush to pass the bill through a narrow Senate majority and without Democratic support forced the GOP to sacrifice some of their long-held aspirations for tax reform.
The final bill permanently reduces the corporate tax rate all the way from 35 percent to 21 percent, nearly matching the 20 percent goal House Republicans set in their 2016 campaign plan (though not as low as the 15 percent Trump ran on). It cuts taxes sharply for business owners, and companies will be able to write off costly purchases of new equipment and buildings.
A new strategy prevents parasites from adapting to drugs by intensifying the competition between them.
The history of antibiotics is a history of running in place. Two years after the first of these life-saving drugs—penicillin—was mass-produced, bacteria that resisted the drug became widespread, too. With grim inevitability, the same events have unfolded for every other drug. Every time scientists identify a new substance that can hold back the tide of infectious disease, resistant superbugs surge over that barrier in a matter of years.
The evolution of drug-resistant microbes is unavoidable, but it’s not instantaneous. And one might reasonably wonder why. Microbes have been around for billions of years. They have had, quite literally, all the time in the world to invent every possible biochemical trick, including ways of defusing antibiotics that they themselves use to kill and suppress each other. So why aren’t all microbes already resistant to all drugs?
Now that he's raised awareness of his lifestyle, David Jay, founder of AVEN, is working to change mainstream beliefs about sex drives.
Now that he's raised awareness of his lifestyle, David Jay, founder of AVEN, is working to change mainstream beliefs about sex drives.
David Jay was in middle school when everyone around him grew suddenly obsessed with the same all-consuming impulse. It wasn't sex per se, but it was its nascent beginnings. While his classmates talked non-stop about which movie stars they thought were hot, eyed each other in the hallway, and made their first, awkward attempts at dating, Jay was left feeling distinctly out of the loop.
"I just didn't get it," he recalls. "I didn't have a reference point to understand what they were going through. And that's really terrifying, because everyone assumes that's what should be happening for you. Sexuality is a really big deal for almost everyone, from middle school on. It's a really central part of a lot of people's lives."
Content moderators review the the dark side of the internet. They don’t escape unscathed.
Lurking inside every website or app that relies on “user-generated content”—so, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, among others—there is a hidden kind of labor, without which these sites would not be viable businesses. Content moderation was once generally a volunteer activity, something people took on because they were embedded in communities that they wanted to maintain.
But as social media grew up, so did moderation. It became what the University of California, Los Angeles, scholar Sarah T. Roberts calls, “commercial content moderation,” a form of paid labor that requires people to review posts—pictures, videos, text—very quickly and at scale.
Roberts has been studying the labor of content moderation for most of a decade, ever since she saw a newspaper clipping about a small company in the Midwest that took on outsourced moderation work.
Russia's strongman president has many Americans convinced of his manipulative genius. He's really just a gambler who won big.
I. The Hack
The large, sunny room at Volgograd State University smelled like its contents: 45 college students, all but one of them male, hunched over keyboards, whispering and quietly clacking away among empty cans of Juicy energy drink. “It looks like they’re just picking at their screens, but the battle is intense,” Victor Minin said as we sat watching them.
Clustered in seven teams from universities across Russia, they were almost halfway into an eight-hour hacking competition, trying to solve forensic problems that ranged from identifying a computer virus’s origins to finding secret messages embedded in images. Minin was there to oversee the competition, called Capture the Flag, which had been put on by his organization, the Association of Chief Information Security Officers, or ARSIB in Russian. ARSIB runs Capture the Flag competitions at schools all over Russia, as well as massive, multiday hackathons in which one team defends its server as another team attacks it. In April, hundreds of young hackers participated in one of them.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
How Iris Chang tried to bridge the gap between a fading memory and a horrific lived reality
The book case in my childhood bedroom contained worlds far from my own. There was my volume of folk tales from the Childcraft encyclopedia series, along with an illustrated Bible. Sandwiched between them was the blood-red spine of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking. The book had awoken the mainstream Western consciousness to the truth of the Japanese military’s horrific massacre of Chinese soldiers and civilians prior to World War II. Unlike many historians, Chang thrust stories and photographs of rape, disfigurement, killing contests, and live burials in front of her readers, forcing them to choose either to shudder and remember or look away in complicity.
While Chang faced a barrage of attacks from other historians, as well as from the publisher contracted to translate her book into Japanese, the debate over what happened in Nanking from December 1937 to January 1938 had been raging before the publication of her book. Japan, for instance, remains divided over the number of Chinese killed in Nanking during those six weeks. The massacre camp generally supports the Tokyo War Crimes Trials figure of “upwards of 100,000” deaths; skeptics claim 15,000 to 50,000, while others venture only up to 10,000. Outside of Japan, James Yin and Shi Young, whose work Chang frequently cited, place the minimum death toll as high as 369,366.
Progressive clergy are pushing a new movement that’s unapologetically political—and deeply rooted in textual traditions.
Since Donald Trump was elected one year ago, I’ve heard from a number of rabbis who feel caught. They’re not sure how to speak into this moment of intense partisan division, nasty rhetoric, and outrage; how to console and advise those who are devastated while not alienating congregants who support the president. This conundrum is sharpest in the Orthodox world, where a strong majority of Jews lean Republican. But even liberal Jewish leaders—those in the Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative movements—many feel hemmed in by board members, funders, or their own sense of clerical propriety.
Sharon Brous does not agree. The senior rabbi at IKAR, a non-denominational spiritual community in Los Angeles, believes this is not a normal moment in American politics, and Jewish leaders need to speak out. The models of Jewish movement-building are also changing, she says: Gone are the days when the president of the Union of Reform Judaism or the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly are the only voices who can speak for American Jews. A new generation of rabbis, working outside of traditional, hierarchical structures, are building followings and defining a new, often politicized, way of expressing Judaism.