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President for a week

[ 223 ] September 7, 2015 |


After exceeding his $1 million crowd-funding goal, Harvard Law School professor Larry Lessig announced today on “This Week” that he is running for president.

“I think I’m running to get people to acknowledge the elephant in the room,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “We have to recognize — we have a government that does not work. The stalemate, partisan platform of American politics in Washington right now doesn’t work.”

If elected, he says he will be the first “referendum president,” promising to serve only as long as it takes to pass his Citizens Equality Act of 2017 — a bill aimed at reforming campaign finance, voting rights, and Congressional representation. Once the bill is passed, Lessig said he would then step down, handing over the reins to his vice president.

His second in command, according to Lessig, has to be “consistent with the values of the Democratic Party” and should be able to excite the base. While he did not name a running mate, his website has a vice president poll featuring the likes of Sheryl Sandberg, Jon Stewart, and Hillary Clinton.

The concept of a referendum president is new, but Lessig said if elected, fixing the “corrupted system” should be his first and only priority.

“If you have seven other issues that you’re running on, that of course you get into Washington and everybody thinks your mandate is one of this or one of that,” he said. “That’s not going to make it possible to take this on.”

While critics have accused him of “dumbing down” the debate, Lessig believes his plan will actually “elevate” it above the partisan divide by taking on an issue he said Americans agree on: campaign finance reform. Lessig said his proposed platform “would fix this democracy and make it possible for government to actually do something without fear of what the funders want them to do.”


(1) As a law professor who blogs on a site founded and administered by political science professors, this is all rather embarrassing.

(2) It says something about something that Lessig thinks the problem with American politics is that it’s too partisan, and that it would be dominated by reasonable people like Larry Lessig if you could just get money out of it.


You’ve just been selected as the new dean of Acme Law School

[ 44 ] September 1, 2015 |

test pattern

This is a test. This is only a test.

Acme Law School is part of the main campus of a state university. State appropriations make up a very small part of the campus budget — less than 5% — and this figure is expected to go to zero within a few years. So for fiscal purposes the university is almost a fully self-funded entity, meaning that any academic unit that spends more than it generates in revenue is to that extent being cross-subsidized by the rest of the university.

ALS currently generates $25 million per year in revenue. Nearly 95% of this revenue comes from a combination of tuition and gift income (gift income is made up of about 80% endowment revenue and 20% annual unrestricted gifts). The rest comes from grants and miscellaneous sources such as building rentals.

Revenue sources appear to be nearly maximized for the time being, although some marginal enhancement may be possible via other degree programs, having law faculty teach summer undergraduate courses, and the like.

ALS currently spends $30 million in direct expenses. About two-thirds of this is made up of payroll, while the rest is comprised of operations and maintenance.

Currently, ALS’s parent university nominally charges about $5 million to the school for its share of indirect university expenses: that is, for university-wide expenses that are not incurred directly by any academic unit (central administration, health and recreation facilities, etc.). This is a nominal charge, because obviously ALS isn’t paying anything close to its direct expenses, so its nominal share of university-wide expenses isn’t being paid by the school.

You have just been named dean. Naturally, when you negotiated your offer, you asked the central administration to guarantee that the school’s current level of subsidization would not be reduced. Naturally, the central administration refused to do so.

You took the job anyway because you like a challenge. What should you do, given that law school applications have declined by 40% over the past five years, although there are some signs of potential stabilization?

(1) Try to convince the faculty that it would be prudent to try to reduce the budget deficit gradually over the next few years, even though, given constraints on revenue increases, this course of action would require quite a bit of somewhat to very painful cost-cutting.

(2) Do whatever you can to protect the status quo. Don’t give anything back until they take it from you. Conduct business as usual as much as possible, i.e., replace departing faculty members with new hires, maintain at least COL increases in regard to law school spending, and so forth.

(3) Who says 2/7 unsuited is a busted hand? Play loose aggressive! Maintaining the status quo is for suckers. Press for a couple or three new lines for maximal synergy in areas of strength and/or to shore up areas of weakness, or both. Start a new center or initiative or three. Build a monorail. The more you have, the more you’ll be able to keep when they start taking things away.

It’s pretty easy to anticipate which of these strategies will be most palatable to the faculty. And it’s far from clear, from a purely self-interested point of view, which makes the most sense for either individual members of the faculty, or the ambitious new dean (The answer will turn in large part on how inattentive/tolerant the central administration will be, which is always hard to predict, on the seniority and tenure status of individual faculty members etc.)

Of course you could really complicate this picture by considering things like what would be best for the students and staff, but let’s not go crazy. Things are complicated enough as it is.

How long will people born in 2015 actually live?

[ 25 ] September 1, 2015 |


The answer to this question depends on being able to determine the probable life expectancy of a birth cohort, rather than the cohort’s life expectancy at birth. The difference between these two numbers is that life expectancy at birth (LEB) isn’t a prediction: it’s a statistical fact, that is, it’s a statement of the mean number of years that will be lived by members of the cohort if the current age-specific mortality rates in the population as a whole remain steady over the cohort’s entire lifespan. Of course to the extent that age-specific mortality rates change over that time, life expectancy at birth won’t reflect the actual life expectancy of the cohort.

To give a concrete example, LEB in the US was 47 in 1900, but it’s certain that the actual average life span of people born in the US in 1900 ended up being quite a bit higher, because age specific mortality rates have dropped pretty much continually since then (they are currently dropping most sharply among the oldest members of the population). But how much higher?

If one is trying to predict how long the average American born today will live — which, for practical purposes, is a much more important number than LEB — how would one do it? Did people in 1900 end up living 10% longer than their LEB? 15%? More? And whatever the spread between LEB and actual life expectancy was, how likely is it to be replicated for people born in 2015? (In the developed world, the increase in LEB has been remarkably steady, with exceptions for a world war or two, for nearly two centuries now).

Anyway, a 15% increase between LEB and actual life expectancy would mean the average American born today will live to be 91, which probably means that in a few decades Zombie Robert Samuelson will be arguing that the social security retirement age should be raised to 83.

Springtime for Donald

[ 180 ] August 30, 2015 |


What does Donald Trump actually want? That is the practical question posed by his increasingly bizarre, and increasingly successful, “campaign.” Jon Chait gets the essence of Trump’s appeal exactly right: it’s not just that, as many people have noted, Trump employs an air raid siren rather than a dog whistle when pandering to the racist id of the GOP base — it’s that he has either cannily decided to exploit, or simply stumbled upon, the huge disconnect between that base and the party elites:

By design or (more likely) by accident, Trump has inhabited a ripe ideological niche. Both parties contain ranges of opinions within them. And both are run by elites who have more socially liberal and economically conservative views than their own voters. (There are plenty of anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-same-sex-marriage Democrats not represented by their leaders.) But the tension between base and elite runs deeper in the Republican Party. Conservative leaders tend to care very little about conservative social policy, or even disagree with it altogether. Conservative [leaders] care a great deal about cutting the top tax rate, deregulating the financial industry, and, ideally, reducing spending on social insurance — proposals that have virtually no authentic following among the rank and file.

This chart by Lee Drutman, tracking public opinion on immigration and Social Security, displays the disconnect:

ss table

The sparsely filled bottom right corner represents the libertarian-ish leanings of the Republican elite, which would like to liberalize immigration law and decrease Social Security benefits. The upper left corner, thick with dots, represents the populist, opposite combination: higher Social Security spending and less immigration. The Republican field — all of which, other than Trump, has endorsed raising the Social Security retirement age — is fighting over the tiny right side, leaving the huge upper left all to Trump. A new poll shows Trump leading New Hampshire with 35 percent, and the next-highest candidate, John Kasich, pulling in 11 percent. A South Carolina poll has Trump pulling in 30 percent of the vote.

Trump has homed in on a bona fide weakness in the Republican Party structure, one that has fascinated liberal critics in particular. The Republican Party has harnessed one set of passions, and then channeled them into unrelated policy outcomes favored by the party elite. Historically, the passions they have harnessed have revolved around foreign policy — like anti-communism, or the surge in nationalism following 9/11. Some of those passions have revolved around culture — a love of guns, the Pledge of Allegiance, a disdain for politicians who look kind of French, and so on.

But the classic formula seems to be yielding diminishing returns.

Now, as Chait points out, from the perspective of a businessman exploiting a potentially profitable niche, turning himself into an updated hybrid of Huey Long and George Wallace is a great idea. From the perspective of somebody trying to become president it’s a sure-fire loser, which means, of course, that the Republican elites will probably do just about anything to keep Trump from getting the nomination.

So what, ultimately, is Trump trying to accomplish?

Which brings us back to the question of what it is Trump is after. His presidential campaign seems to have come at enormous financial cost. His undisguised (or less-disguised) racism has made him an economic pariah. He has lost sponsorship agreements from a long list of corporations that want to sell things to people who aren’t white. He’s traded his lucrative brand for Pat Buchanan’s brand.

This immunity from consequence gives Trump the power to wreak apparently limitless havoc upon what is currently his party. The consequences Republicans impose for Trump’s offenses have no effect on him. You cannot threaten a man if you don’t even know what he cares about. Is Trump running to spite the reporters who mocked him as a bluffer? As an expensive lark, like the time he got piano lessons from Elton John? To use his political fame to trade up for his next wife? Does Trump actually believe he can become president of the United States?

It’s a good question, and my guess of an answer is that Trump’s campaign started as a publicity stunt, but has since spun out of control. It’s the plot of The Producers, but, increasingly, the joke’s on the GOP. And, now that Trump’s bottomless narcissism is being fed by the spectacle of his transformation into a “serious” candidate, it’s hard to predict where all this will ultimately end up.

Has the decline in law school applications bottomed out?

[ 14 ] August 30, 2015 |


Final figures for the 2014-15 application cycle are now available, and, as I predicted last December, the steep decline in applications to law school that began four years ago appears to have slowed dramatically, if not stopped completely. The total number of applicants — 53,548 — is slightly less than two percent below last year’s figure. Applicant totals are down 39% from 2010, and 47% from their 2004 peak:

law school apps

Since the ABA Section of Legal Education saw fit to approve 17 (!) new law schools over the past decade, increasing the number of ABA law schools by nearly 10%, the ratio of total applicants to ABA law schools has declined even more, from 535 to 1 to 262 to 1. Total 1L enrollment this fall, if we assume that last year’s 80% acceptance rate can’t go any higher, will be around 37,200, meaning that first year enrollment will be down 30% from its 2010 peak, despite a sharp drop in admissions standards. Here’s the percentage of applicants admitted to at least one ABA school over the past ten years:

2004: 55.6%
2005: 58.6%
2006: 63.1%
2007: 66.1%
2008: 66.5%
2009: 67.4%
2010: 68.7%
2011: 71.1%
2012: 74.5%
2013: 76.8%
2014: 79.8%

After five straight years of declines, June LSAT administrations were up by 6%, so it’s likely that American law schools are at what is at least a temporary bottom in regard to the cratering of applicant numbers. This plateau, if that’s what it proves to be, rests upon the potentially very thin ice of the continuation of the federal government’s Grad PLUS loan program, which is still loaning out the full cost of attendance to essentially anyone any ABA-certified school chooses to admit, no matter what that school charges. The Grad PLUS program is under increasing political pressure, however, so law school administrators had better not be refinancing that second ski chalet just yet.

Grad PLUS is a classic example of a bad government program, that lots of people are trying to replace with an even worse privatized program, i.e., private educational loans that will continue to be non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, and won’t feature even the limited protection of the income-based soft default provisions available to those who can’t repay their government loans.

And people who think no private lender is going to fork over $200,000 for somebody to go to Thomas Jefferson or Touro are almost certainly wrong about that — private lenders will be more than happy to make even very risky loans at five or six or seven percent over prime, if debtors can’t get rid of those loans in bankruptcy. Getting rid of Grad PLUS will kill some schools that ought to die, but continuing to make private educational loans non-dischargeable in bankruptcy — an egregious giveaway to the financial industry created by the 2005 bankruptcy “reform” bill — will ensure that many others that should go out of business will survive, and that a large percentage of their graduates will spend the rest of their lives buried in life-wrecking amounts of debt.

The good news is that even as distorted and perverse a “market” as that for law degrees paid for with no-questions-asked government loans is still not completely immune from the effects of supply and demand: not only have applicant totals fallen nearly in half, but real tuition (sticker minus discounts) is now almost certainly lower than it was three years ago, in defiance of the apparent law that the price of higher education in America can only go up (If nothing else, American law schools have proven that with enough greedy recklessness it’s possible to kill even that heretofore immortal golden goose).

A mordant illustration of the latter fact is provided by the good folks at Indiana Tech’s fledgling law school, who have just admitted a first year class of fifteen intrepid souls, despite cutting tuition to zero. The school thus seems to have found a theoretical and practical limit to P.T. Barnum’s and H.L. Mencken’s most famous dicta.

What sort of advance did Matt Millen get for his book “How to Build a Dominant NFL Franchise?”

[ 31 ] August 29, 2015 |



Wait, that’s not a real book. This, however, is a real op-ed, in which Team Cheney reveal the secrets to building an American foreign policy that both tastes great and is less filling:

No other nation, international body or “community of nations” can do what we do. It isn’t just our involvement in world events that has been essential for the triumph of freedom. It is our leadership. For the better part of a century, security and freedom for millions of people around the globe have depended on America’s military, economic, political and diplomatic might. For the most part, until the administration of Barack Obama, we delivered.

Can you guess what historical analogy leaps to mind when Dick and Liz Cheney consider the Iran deal?

The Obama nuclear agreement with Iran is tragically reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement in 1938. Each was negotiated from a position of weakness by a leader willing to concede nearly everything to appease an ideological dictator. Hitler got Czechoslovakia. The mullahs in Tehran get billions of dollars and a pathway to a nuclear arsenal. Munich led to World War II. The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I knew you could.

Quantities are limited

[ 58 ] August 25, 2015 |


Having demonstrated that that, discounted to present value, a law degree from an American law school is worth on average just under one million dollars, Michael Simkovic has turned his attention to a genuine social crisis: the billions of dollars in lost earnings suffered every year by prospective law students, who have made the serious, and eminently preventable, mistake of not enrolling in law school

The blame for this multi-billion dollar catastrophe is easy to ascribe: ongoing bad publicity, based on a sensationalist media environment, that promotes TV shows like “Suits,” which I’ve been told is about document reviewers being paid $15 per hour to be basement-dwelling helots for law firms that use them for casual and mind-numbing labor, and Legally Blonde, a film which has been compared The Seventh Seal in regard to the existential dread in which it envelops the viewer.

Earlier this month, I charted the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of law schools and the legal profession over the last 5 years and discussed the disconnect between the news slant and economic reality. To the extent that news coverage dissuaded individuals from attending law school for financial reasons, or caused them to delay attending law school, newspapers will on average have cost each prospective law students tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total economic harm across all prospective law students could easily be in the low billions of dollars.

What can we learn from this?

Accurate, informed, and balanced news coverage does not happen of its own volition, particularly in a world where sensationalism and negativity attract eyeballs and sell advertising. …

Luckily, a spate of bad PR is a far from insoluble problem: Read more…

The politics of sociological consciousness

[ 254 ] August 24, 2015 |

s & c

This weekend, the NYT ran an interesting article by a former waiter at one of New York’s Michelin three-star restaurants, who is now a graduate student:

In a playground for the superrich, I was an overpaid chaperone wearing a bespoke suit. Gluttony was common. So was sex; more than once we had to interrupt coitus in the restroom. Once a woman asked to leave her baby at the coat check. When the maître d’ explained that dinner lasted at least three hours, she stared back at him, unfazed. “Yes, I know.” Grown men wearing Zegna and Ferragamo would sit at the bar chanting, “We are the 1 percent!”

The nightly grotesquerie was almost exciting. But something happened after spending too many nights delivering four- or five-figure checks on silver trays. Estrangement did set in. I imagine pick-up artists experience something similar. You learn what people want from you, and, for a while, you get a high making all the right gestures: the perfectly timed joke, the wry smile. But, deep down, you feel nothing.

Read more…

The ethics of ethnography

[ 133 ] August 21, 2015 |

the wire

One of the ways that I can accustom myself to inconvenient phenomena is to imagine that I will stand trial for ethnographic malpractice. An attorney has brought a claim against me on behalf of my study’s readers. The trial will be held at a courtroom near the site of study, and witnesses who know about my subject will be called. The important thing about these witnesses is that they will be the ones I most fear hearing from because what they know is least convenient for the impressions I have given the reader.

Mitchell Duneier, “How Not To Lie With Ethnography,” Sociological Methodology (2011)

I have an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Alice Goffman’s book On the Run.

It’s both 10,000 words long and subscriber-only, so here’s a quick summary:

(1) On the Run is full of improbable stories of various kinds. In the article I looked into several (there were many others that I didn’t have room to explore), and was unable to confirm any of them.

(2) Assuming the events she described actually happened as she described them, most of the stories I investigated could have been confirmed, in least in part, with a little cooperation from Goffman herself. She declined to provide almost any, citing confidentiality concerns. (She ended up answering one question about one issue, and the implausibility of her answer only brought her veracity into further doubt).

(3) Goffman is abusing the concept of subject confidentiality in order to keep her work from being fact-checked. I determined the identities of most of her primary subjects, as well as the location of what the book calls the “6th Street” neighborhood, without much difficulty. It was made clear to her that neither I nor the CHE had any interest in compromising the anonymity of her subjects, even though we were under no ethical, let alone legal, obligation to protect them from her failure to do so. It was also made clear to her that she could be interviewed on background, in a way that would preserve subject confidentiality completely, and which, if even a couple of the stories investigated in the article then checked out, would have led to the article not being published. Again, she refused.

(4) Nobody at Princeton, which gave her a doctorate on the basis of the research that eventually became the book, or the University of Chicago Press, which published the hardback version, or the American Sociological Review, which published Goffman’s article featuring much of the book’s quantitative data, actually checked any of Goffman’s purported research, beyond confirming that she did hang out on 6th Street for a time, and did know her research subjects. (A similar level of investigation led Jesse Singal to conclude a couple of months ago that On the Run is “almost entirely true.”).

(5) This spring, the University of Wisconsin, where Goffman is on the faculty, conducted an investigation, which led to a public statement that concerns about research misconduct on Goffman’s part were “without merit.” The documents generated by this investigation are subject to the state’s open records law. I filed a request for those documents two months ago. As of today the university has failed to comply. (According to regulatory guidance from the Wisconsin attorney general’s office, a request of this type should be complied with within ten business days).

(6) All of the above raises questions about how social science work in general, and ethnographic work in particular, is evaluated and rewarded. From the article:

In May 2015, the academic world was rocked by news that a paper published in Science appeared to have been based on a fake study. The paper was co-authored by Donald Green, a prominent political scientist at Columbia, but it was actually the work of Michael LaCour, a graduate student at UCLA. The paper reported that a single brief conversation between people who had a stake in the issue and those they were interviewing could lead to significant changes in attitudes toward gay marriage.

The most striking aspect of the LaCour scandal is that, at no point in the submission, review, and publication process did anyone — including Green, the paper’s reviewers, and the editors of Science — have any basis other than, apparently, an implicit faith in that process for their belief that LaCour’s data were genuine.

The Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy had this reaction:

Science is often bitterly competitive but it depends on honesty. It is not set up to weed out liars. Imagine what research, or talks, or conferences would be like if you had to routinely question not simply the quality or competence but the actual honesty of speakers. The same goes for supervision. Consider having to check not just the quality of your grad students’ work, but whether they were lying to you about their data. Much of what we do would become simply impossible.

To which a skeptic might reply: If science is bitterly competitive, and it isn’t set up to catch liars, and there are great rewards for liars who don’t get caught, then one doesn’t need a Ph.D. in social science to realize that this system will produce a whole lot of lying, and that a lot of that lying won’t ever be discovered.

It’s not yet clear that Goffman engaged in the sort of wholesale fabrication that LaCour committed, but it’s also far from clear that she didn’t. And that fact points to a problem that goes far beyond Alice Goffman and On the Run.

College endowments and “affordability”

[ 39 ] August 20, 2015 |


Following up on yesterday’s post regarding a proposal that rich universities such as Yale should be required to spend more of their endowments, in part to make college more affordable, it’s worth noting that going to Yale College costs its students essentially nothing.

Average debt at graduation for 2013 Yale grads: $2,081

Eastern Connecticut State on the other hand . . .

Average debt at graduation for 2013 ECSU grads: $22,040

Which school is more “affordable?” Well Yale’s cost of attendance for 2012-13 was $59,320, of which $42,300 was tuition. ECSU, by contrast, had a total COA of $23,395, of which $8,911 represented in-state tuition (it’s safe to assume the vast majority of the school’s students are paying the in-state rate).

How can this be? The answer is twofold: a whole lot of kids from really rich families go to Yale, and those that come from middle class backgrounds (in HYP land, “middle class” means a household income in the low six figures), or the (very) occasional kid who somehow manages to get in despite growing up in abject poverty, i.e., a family income of less than $60,000, pay either massively discounted tuition, or — in the case of our $60,000 Jude the Obscure — no tuition or room and board.

As to how exactly Yale affords the beneficence it bestows upon the lower orders, the following graph is instructive:

Endowments III

The problem with proposals to force colleges to use endowment funds to make higher ed more affordable is that the vast majority of institutions of higher education in the US have no endowment to speak of. Even the 95th percentile institutional endowment on the graph above (Connecticut College — it’s like rain on your wedding day) is a mere $278,000,000, i.e., barely more than one percent of the Smaug-like hoard that has piled up in New Haven over the years.

Over the past few decades, a handful of schools have acquired wealth uncountable — at this moment there are probably ten American universities with endowments of at least ten billion dollars — while a few dozen others have gotten enough money in their endowments to fund a significant percentage of their operations. But the 90% to 95% to 98% of schools outside the magic circle have gotten close to bupkis. This pattern is reminiscent of something else in the American economy, which in turn may bear some causal relation to these various developments.

Charity begins at Yale

[ 90 ] August 19, 2015 |


Vic Fleischer has a piece in the NYT arguing for a federal law that would require non-profit higher ed institutions to spend at least 8% of their endowments every year (the usual percentage spent is 4% to 4.5%, and it’s often based on several-year average of the endowment principal, so when endowments are going up rapidly, as they have been recently, the actual percentage spent of the current endowment total can be far lower).

This hoarding behavior is especially obnoxious, given where a lot of the money that is spent ends up going:

Who do you think received more cash from Yale’s endowment last year: Yale students, or the private equity fund managers hired to invest the university’s money?

It’s not even close.

Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers as compensation — about $137 million in annual management fees, and another $343 million in performance fees, also known as carried interest — to manage about $8 billion, one-third of Yale’s endowment.

I am but a simple country faux-lawyer, largely untutored in the ways of high finance, but this seems like a truly fantastic ripoff of what one of its former presidents called the best finishing school on Long Island Sound. Yale paid six percent of that portion of its endowment managed by the Masters of the Universe to said Masters, for their priceless 480 million dollars-worth of wisdom?

How could whatever marginal investment value the wizards of hedge fundery provided over, say, a dart board, justify this kind of fee structure? The answer is . . . look over there, a new student center!

Kenneth C. Griffin, a hedge fund manager, gave Harvard $150 million in 2014. In May of this year, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman and co-founder of the private equity giant Black-stone, pledged $150 million to Yale toward a new student center. John A. Paulson, another hedge fund manager, topped them both when he gave Harvard $400 million in June.

While nobody has suggested that quid pro quos were involved in these cases, these gifts high-light the symbiotic relationship between university endowments and the world of hedge funds and private equity funds.

“Symbiotic” is a polite word, but I can think of another biological metaphor which might more accurately capture the increasingly intimate relationship between elite universities and the .001%.

. . . Howard, in comments:

This kind of behavior at colleges, foundations, and other non-profits, is one of the great case examples of the interlocking nature of the one-percenters. There quite literally is no case at all to be made for the fees paid to hedge fund and private equity managers: after-fee returns can easily be shown to lag a simple s+p 500 index fund over any meaningful time increment.

And yet, institution after institution goes right ahead because no one questions it: everyone – the board, the administration, the money managers themselves – is complicit and paid off in one way or another, as Donald Trump is only too happy to remind us.

How do you appease billionaires who hate a social program almost everyone else loves?

[ 69 ] August 17, 2015 |

jp ,morgan

Mr. Burns: This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That’s democracy for you.

Smithers: You are noble and poetic in defeat, sir.

Krugman points out that this is the painful conundrum faced by GOP presidential contenders:

Wealthy individuals have long played a disproportionate role in politics, but we’ve never seen anything like what’s happening now: domination of campaign finance, especially on the Republican side, by a tiny group of immensely wealthy donors. Indeed, more than half the funds raised by Republican candidates through June came from just 130 families.

And while most Americans love Social Security, the wealthy don’t. Two years ago a pioneering study of the policy preferences of the very wealthy found many contrasts with the views of the general public; as you might expect, the rich are politically different from you and me. But nowhere are they as different as they are on the matter of Social Security. By a very wide margin, ordinary Americans want to see Social Security expanded. But by an even wider margin, Americans in the top 1 percent want to see it cut. And guess whose preferences are prevailing among Republican candidates.

You often see political analyses pointing out, rightly, that voting in actual primaries is preceded by an “invisible primary” in which candidates compete for the support of crucial elites. But who are these elites? In the past, it might have been members of the political establishment and other opinion leaders. But what the new attack on Social Security tells us is that the rules have changed. Nowadays, at least on the Republican side, the invisible primary has been reduced to a stark competition for the affections and, of course, the money of a few dozen plutocrats.

What this means, in turn, is that the eventual Republican nominee — assuming that it’s not Mr. Trump —will be committed not just to a renewed attack on Social Security but to a broader plutocratic agenda. Whatever the rhetoric, the GOP is on track to nominate someone who has won over the big money by promising government by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent.

Nothing calls for a quasi-Maoist intervention more than when a soft-handed journalist or bloviating politician opines that it’s no big deal to raise the retirement age to 70, because after all people are living so much longer these days, and work has all sorts of social and even spiritual benefits. Anyone who says things like that should be forced immediately to shingle a roof in San Antonio, preferably in August.

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