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Category: General

Two observations on today’s Douthat column

[ 152 ] December 2, 2012 |

First: Kudos to the headline writer, who I have to believe was entirely aware of the dark humorous effect of putting the phrase “More Babies, Please” directly above Douthat’s sneering visage.

Second: while there’s generally a hefty amount of dishonesty in Douthat’s columns, one claim from today’s stands out: “with fertility in decline across Mexico and Latin America, it isn’t clear that the United States can continue to rely heavily on immigrant birthrates to help drive population growth.”

The US currently admits a tiny fraction of those who apply for legal resident status, and the number who apply is almost certainly depressed by the extraordinarily long odds of success, especially for those without a plausible asylum claim or family reunification angle. We could change immigration policy to admit substantially more immigrants than we now do, and this will likely to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Should demand from Mexico and Latin America decline, the difference could easily be made up elsewhere. Indeed, if migrant supply somehow fails to meet migrant demand at some point in the foreseeable future, one of two things will be true: the standard of living across the developing world has risen by a remarkable degree, or the standard of living in the US has utterly collapsed. The former would be a cause for celebration of such magnitude that the US having to figure out how to deal with a modestly declining population will hardly register as a problem worth noting. In the case of the latter,  the disaster will be of such a magnitude that our immigration worries should be the least of our concerns.

Of course, a steady or slightly growing population generated by high immigration rather than birth rates will lead to a more racially and culturally diverse polity. This would be a welcome development for a host of reasons, one of which would be that it would hasten the coming of the moment in which the Republican party is forced to choose between being a nationally competitive party or a party heavily invested in nativist white identity politics.


Income-Based Repayment and the economics of higher ed

[ 30 ] December 2, 2012 |

GULC professor Philip Schrag has a forthcoming review of Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools that criticizes Tamanaha for failing to acknowledge that Income-Based Repayment, especially in its new form that will become available to most law students as early as next year, “solves” the problem that law degrees now cost much more than they’re worth. (Tamanaha responds here).

In his book Tamanaha presents the case of Sarah, a hypothetical graduate making an entry-level salary of $63,000 (this was NALP’s — needless to say quite inflated — “median” salary for the class of 2010). Tamanaha points out that if Sarah has $100,000 in law school debt she will be unable to service that debt via the standard ten-year repayment plan, and she will still struggle to do so under the 25-year extended payment option. “In 2007, however,” Schrag announces, “the United States Congress solved Sarah’s problem,” by creating IBR.

The new version of IBR, Pay As You Earn (PAYE), has been fast-tracked via executive order by President Obama, who is displaying either a touchingly naive belief in the investment value of higher education, or a ruthlessly cynical willingness to exploit that belief. Read more…

Whitewashing Jefferson

[ 110 ] December 2, 2012 |

Corey Robin has largely saved me from having to respond to David Post. But I do want to address one narrow point:

The truth is that few people in human history did more, over the course of a lifetime, to “place the road on the road to liberty for all” — and indeed, to eliminate human slavery from the civilized world — than Jefferson.

This assertion strikes me as, to put it mildly, problematic.

  • The Declaration of Independence was evidently very influential and contained any number of noble sentiments, some of which proved to be a resource for people who opposed slavery and white supremacy.  But let’s also not get carried away with exaggerating the causal impact of the Declaration on ending slavery.   The fact is, a particularly brutal form of slavery persisted for upwards of a century after the Declaration in the states governed by Jefferson’s fellow southern political elites, and it it had to be vanquished not through voluntary emancipation but through an extraordinarily bloody military conflict.   And then after the Civil War, in spite of the Declaration the states controlled by Jefferson’s heirs maintained apartheid police states for nearly another century.   The leaders who risked (and in many cases) scarified their lives before and after the Civil War deserve far more credit than Jefferson for ending these appalling social systems.
  • And, as Corey says, Jefferson himself played a major role, in both theory and practice, of establishing the norm that the Declaration’s announcement that “all mean are created equal” wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.

Dole/Kemp ’96

[ 45 ] December 1, 2012 |

Just in case anyone wanted to play around on the official Dole/Kemp website, which miraculously still exists. I know I look forward to following along on the victory marathon.


Let the Silliness Begin

[ 109 ] December 1, 2012 |

Baseball Hall of Fame voting debates are going to be intolerable for the rest of my life.

And personally, Curt Schilling saying that cheaters don’t deserve to be in is pretty funny. What about fleecing the state of Rhode Island, Curt? Should that disqualify you?

Down the Memory Hole

[ 58 ] December 1, 2012 |

One conservative strategy will be to pretend that George W. Bush never existed. I suspect that it’s only a matter of time before Bush becomes a tax-hiking Democrat. (Jonah Goldberg pointed the direction on this many moons ago.)

Relatedly, I would like to note this from the latest column of Mr. David Brooks:

Raising top tax rates may not be as cataclysmic for the economy as some have argued, but this is still one of the most growth-killing ways to raise revenue.

How the assumption that increases in the top marginal tax rates are “growth-killing” can be squared with the results of the last 20 years of American public policy is, oddly enough, unexplained. Apparently, it’s not just the Bush tax cuts but the Clinton budget deal that never happened.

“A creepy, brutal hypocrite.”

[ 230 ] December 1, 2012 |

Paul Finkelman on the Sage of Monticello:

Contrary to Mr. Wiencek’s depiction, Jefferson was always deeply committed to slavery, and even more deeply hostile to the welfare of blacks, slave or free. His proslavery views were shaped not only by money and status but also by his deeply racist views, which he tried to justify through pseudoscience.

There is, it is true, a compelling paradox about Jefferson: when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, announcing the “self-evident” truth that all men are “created equal,” he owned some 175 slaves. Too often, scholars and readers use those facts as a crutch, to write off Jefferson’s inconvenient views as products of the time and the complexities of the human condition.

But while many of his contemporaries, including George Washington, freed their slaves during and after the revolution — inspired, perhaps, by the words of the Declaration — Jefferson did not. Over the subsequent 50 years, a period of extraordinary public service, Jefferson remained the master of Monticello, and a buyer and seller of human beings.


Nor was Jefferson a particularly kind master. He sometimes punished slaves by selling them away from their families and friends, a retaliation that was incomprehensibly cruel even at the time. A proponent of humane criminal codes for whites, he advocated harsh, almost barbaric, punishments for slaves and free blacks. Known for expansive views of citizenship, he proposed legislation to make emancipated blacks “outlaws” in America, the land of their birth. Opposed to the idea of royal or noble blood, he proposed expelling from Virginia the children of white women and black men.

Jefferson also dodged opportunities to undermine slavery or promote racial equality. As a state legislator he blocked consideration of a law that might have eventually ended slavery in the state.

As president he acquired the Louisiana Territory but did nothing to stop the spread of slavery into that vast “empire of liberty.” Jefferson told his neighbor Edward Coles not to emancipate his own slaves, because free blacks were “pests in society” who were “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves.” And while he wrote a friend that he sold slaves only as punishment or to unite families, he sold at least 85 humans in a 10-year period to raise cash to buy wine, art and other luxury goods.

The “Health Insurance is a Corporate Bailout” Fallacy

[ 298 ] November 30, 2012 |

There’s a recent comment that reminds me of a deplorable line of argument I’ve seen repeatedly but don’t I’ve ever addressed:

Nobody has universal healthcare. Not even after it’s fully implemented will it be honestly “universal”.

Obama handed corporations billions of dollars in enforced customers that hopefully will be better than having no healthcare at all.

Creepy how Obama supporters never did the math on how much corporations could be expected to profit from Obama’s plan until there was fear that the Supreme Court might eliminate it.

Suddenly there were pseudo-liberals trying to explain how bad the elimination of Obamacare would be to _corporation’s profitability_.

And yes, that’s closet Republicanism: Corporations profiting from expanded government.

Liberals, true liberals, know that it would have been more efficient and cost-effective to go straight to any of a dozen superior healthcare models that the rest of the industrialized world uses: Namely, telling corporations to go F# themselves.

While stated in crude and extreme form, this became a fairly common routine among leftier-than-thou critics of the ACA (and/or NFIB v. Sebelius.) John Roberts was just “bailing out” the health insurance industry or some such. (The theory that John Roberts is the only Republican in America sensitive to corporate interests is…not plausible, but moving right along.) I understand perfectly well that single-payer would be a superior system, but in the context of American politics, this is beside the point — if you have further complaints, direct them to James Madison.

There are two obvious problems with this argument. First, it proves too much. By the same logic, progressives should oppose food stamps because they’re really just bailouts of Big Food and Big Retail, and the federal government shouldn’t try to help poor people get food with anything but rations provided by state agencies. The fact is, when you get money into the hands of poor people, a lot of it is going to end up in the hands of Wal-Mart or Target or whatever. This is a really bad argument for opposing welfare programs. Second, I don’t think these claims that private health insurance are worthless are remotely credible. Do you have health insurance through your employer? Would you give it up for an increase in wages? I sure wouldn’t. Does anyone really think that health care is no more accessible for middle class people in Massachusetts than it is in Mississippi?

The same fallacies can be seen in Connor Kilpatrick’s assertion that not only does Obama not favor radical means, he doesn’t even favor progressive goals. Apparently, the endpoint progressives should be fighting for isn’t “making healthcare universally accessible” but “sticking it to corporations.” Not only is this exactly the wrong priority, but as long as #2 is your main goal American political institutions mean that #1 is will be permanently off the table unless the South is planning on seceding again.

8 CA Grants Stay Based On Free Exercise Argument That Is Still Terrible

[ 38 ] November 30, 2012 |

I’m not sure how seriously they’re taking the appeal, but it’s still cause for concern. In light of Oregon v. Smith, the argument that the contraceptive mandate violates the First Amendment should be laughed out of court, but in a context in which ad hoc arguments that the PPACA violated the commerce clause could get 5 votes from the Supreme Court all bets are off. And the fact that Scalia wrote Smith guarantees nothing — as NFIB v. Sebelius showed, he’s not going to consider himself bound by his previous holdings in landmark cases or anything.

…a commenter argues that the real argument will be based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I don’t think this actually works, because although RFRA might apply the old Sherbert standard to lower federal officials, it’s not obvious to me that it should be seen as applying to future legislative enactments — it seems to me that the proper course is to assume that the more recent legislation supersedes the older one. But even if we assume that the Sherbert test should apply, the argument is still utterly frivolous. If the RFRA prevents the application of federal law in this case — which concerns a de minimis burden on religious practice, and indeed would result in a substantial net reduction of religious freedom — I’m not sure what significant federal law you can enforce.

My Offer Reflects the Fact That Elections Have Consequences

[ 125 ] November 29, 2012 |

Interesting — after re-election we have a very different Obama that was at least formally willing to give away the store in 2011:

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner presented the House speaker, John A. Boehner, a detailed proposal on Thursday to avert the year-end fiscal crisis with $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, $50 billion in immediate stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits.

The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, met strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced the goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might be outweighed by spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare.

This is more like it. Obviously, nothing like this has any chance of being enacted, and nor will it make House Republicans more likely to make a deal.  But it is encouraging for two reasons:

  • It makes it clear that Obama is willing to maximize his leverage by letting the Bush tax cuts expire.  This isn’t the proposal of someone who’s particularly interested in making a deal to avoid “going over the cliff.”   And after the Bush tax cuts have expired Obama’s hand is much stronger.
  • It makes it more likely that the terrible deal he offered in 2011 was based on the idea that any “grand bargain” would help his re-election, rather than an inherent commitment to the underlying principles.   This deal has the right priorities — significant new revenue, needed stimulus spending, and to the extent that “entitlements” are cut this is done correctly:  Social Security not touched, unspecified Medicare cuts that can be progressive because they don’t necessarily entail cuts to services.

Since I’ve been meaning to get to Corey Robin’s question for a while, it’s probably as good a time as any to address it:

Doesn’t Obama have good reasons not only to lead us over the fiscal cliff, but also to keep us there? That is, not negotiate any kind of deal with the Republicans, neither before nor after January 1? Unless you assume Obama doesn’t want cuts to entitlements — which I don’t assume; I believe he’s an austerian of Reactionary Keynesianism — think about what he gets if he allows the sequester to go through: slightly higher tax rates, cuts to entitlements, and cuts to defense. Those seems like classic New Democrat/Clintonite goals.

It seems to me that the question is built around a faulty premise — that is, that the sequester has entitlement cuts.   In fact, the sequester specifically excluded entitlements and focused on discretionary spending.  Social Security and Medicare are specifically excluded from the sequester; the only “entitlement” cuts that would result from going over the fiscal cliff are the cuts to provider payments that would be scheduled to happen anyway.    This is not only important in itself, but is also an important consideration given the assumption that Obama is inherently dying to slash entitlements.  If this was true, it is (to put it mildly) hard to understand why the sequester excluded them.   And, in fact, going over the fiscal cliff makes it less likely that bad entitlement cuts will be enacted.

This isn’t to say that progressives shouldn’t worry.   Until a deal is reached, we should!   This first bid is encouraging, but until there’s an actual deal skepticism and political pressure from the left are very much in order.    However, it is important for progressives not to fall into the Pain Caucus trap of discussing the single program MedicareandSocialSecurity.    Any cut to Social Security benefits — especially a raise in the retirement age, which is the kind of thing that can get traction only because most elites have jobs that are rewarding and physically undemanding — should be fiercely resisted.   Medicare cuts, conversely, can be good or bad depending on the details.   Single payer systems are better in part because they impose “austerity” on providers, drug manufacturers, etc. — this isn’t an inherently bad thing.   As any progressive should recognize, the U.S. spends far, far too much on health care.  If Medicare is cut by paying less to drug companies,that’s good.  If it’s cut by raising the eligibility age, that’s bad (and, since Medicare is more efficient just cost-shifting.)

Tell your statistics to shut up

[ 24 ] November 29, 2012 |

Case Western Reserve Law School Dean Larry Mitchell had an op ed in the Times this morning about why certain unnamed “sensationalist” critics of American legal education are being sensationalistic.

My response is here.

Keep Raisin’ That Green Lantern!

[ 111 ] November 29, 2012 |

In a further refinement of the power attributed to the BULLY PULPIT, we are informed by Ben smith that the president’s ability to send emails to his supporters is not merely a powerful tool, it is his most powerful tool.   Surely, John Boehner is quaking in his boots about the prospect that a weapon of this power might be unleashed.    And if Bill Clinton’s masterful job getting major health care legislation passed proves anything, it’s that going public is far, far better than meaningless “congressional negotiations.”

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