Five Best Monday Columns

On Russia's political future, Internet-fueled narcissism, and the true cost of Medicare

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Larry Summers on Avoiding a Lost Economic Decade  Former Clinton-era Treasury secretary and Obama economic adviser Larry Summers takes to The Washington Post today to warn that "even with the massive 2008-09 policy effort that prevented financial collapse and depression, the United States is now halfway to a lost economic decade." Since 2006, he explains, unemployment has remained at recession lows, now including "huge numbers of new college graduates [who] are moving back in with their parents this month ebcause they have no job or means of support." Though "traditionally, the American economy has recovered robustly as demand has been quickly renewed ... our current situation is very different ... After bubbles burst there is no pent-up desire to invest." Summers insists that "the Obama administration is doing important work by modernizing export controls, promoting U.S. products abroad, and reaching and enforcing trade agreements, [though] much more could be done." He clarifies that "the greatest threat to the nation's creditworthiness is a sustained period of slow growth that, as in southern Europe, causes debt-to-GDP ratios to soar," and warns that "without the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance negotiated by the president and Congress last fall, we might well be lookingat the possibility of a double-dip recession." The key to avoiding "a lost decade [is] recognizing current economic reality," Summers argues.

Tony Brenton on Medvedev and Putin, Biking  The Telegraph's Tony Brenton observes the friendly relationship between Dimitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, the president and prime minister of Russia, respectively, and wonders "who will be the 'official' candidate--and inevitable winner--in the 2012 presidential election, now less than 10 months away?" Putin, after his two allotted presidential terms had expired, ensured that his successor would be his protege Medvedev and, as prime minister, remained "the most powerful man in Russia" and puppeteer-in-chief, Brenton, the former British ambassador to Moscow, explains. Despite efforts to look chummy for the media by biking through parks together, "as the election approaches, the apparent divergences between the two men have grown wider." It is unclear whether, in the upcoming election, Medvedev will run again, choose a successor, or go up against Putin, but "he can be reasonably confident that the establishment will once again fall into line," he writes. "The inside circle may feud among themselves but they are far too closely bound up and know each other's affairs far too well to risk a major fragmentation."

Ross Douthat on Narcissism, Weiner, and the Internet  "Particular vices can be encouraged by particular innovations, and thrive in the new worlds that they create," writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who argues "Anthony Weiner's virtual adultery" has illustrated that "the Internet era's defining vice...[is] a desperate, adolescent narcissism." Douthat observes that, while seeking sex outside his marriage is not particularly new, "what's more striking is the form his dalliances took--not a private surrender to lust or ardor, but a pathetic quest for quasipublic validation." He points out that Weiner's correspondence with his online "partners" reveal that he is hardly interested in them at all--they "existed less to titillate him than to hold up mirrors to his own vanity." Douthat argues that "Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before ... And as Anthony Weiner just found out, it's very easy to get lost in there."
Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Spain's Role in Cuban Injustice  "Over the past 11 months, the Cuban regime has abruptly removed 115 political prisoners from their jail cells and banished them to Spain, calling their exile 'liberation,'" writes The Wall Street Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady. She explains that "many of them are part of a group known as 'the 75,' who were arrested in March 2003 for activities like collecting signatures on a democracy petition, leading peaceful marches, or writing for independent newspapers." After living in Cuba's inhumane prisons, experiencing cruel punishments such as "the crab" wherein a prisoner is handcuffed wrist to anke and, "wearing only underwear, is tossed onto the floor of a dank cell where he may remain for a day or more," these political prisoners "were permitted to leave with their immediate families and bring one change of clothes from Cuba, but they were not given the chance to say goodbye to friends and extended family and were issued no papers." Their efforts to "claim political-refugee status" have been denied and, O'Grady argues, "the truly distressing part of the prisoners' stories is the morally bankrupt role played by the Socialist government of Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in assisting the Cuban dictatorship to disguise the deportation as 'liberation.'" O'Grady suggests that "the transition to democracy in Cuba depends on two things: New leaders at home and international solidarity with their struggle for liberty from abroad. Mr. Zapatero has betrayed the Cuban people on both fronts."
Paul Krugman on the Economic Benefits of Medicare "Medicare saves money," declares Paul Krugman counterintuitively in today's New York Times. Though there's much talk of the vastness of entitlement spending, "pushing people out of Medicare, in addition to depriving many Americans of needed care, would almost surely end up increasing total health care costs." Krugman concedes that spending for Medicare has risen "400 percent from 1969 to 2009," but points out that "inflation-adjusted premiums on private health insurance rose more than 700 percent over the same period. So while it's true that Medicare has done an inadequate job of controlling costs, the private sector has done much worse." Raising the age for Medicare coverage from 65 to 67, as Senator Joe Lieberman currently proposes, will force those now uncovered to get private insurance which,for those that can even get it, "will cost much more than it would cost to provide the same coverage through Medicare." Krugman adds that "the United States has the most privatized health care system in the advanced world; it also has, by far, the most expensive care, without gaining any clear advantage in quality for all that spending." While "interest-group politics" forced the Affordable Care Act through without universal Medicare coverage, Krugman insists that this "should not be taken as a reason to be complacent about rising health care costs...If we really want to hold down costs, we should be seeking to offer Medicare-type programs to as many Americans as possible."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.