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The Heir to My Vast Misfortune

[ 0 ] March 4, 2009 |

Named for the grandfathers he’ll never have the good fortune to meet, John Galt Orrin Corliss Hayes Noon was born this morning at 4:06 a.m. He weighed in at 8 lb., 1 oz., and seems to be in fantastic health. Baby and father were both quite exhausted by the ordeal. The mother also appears to be strangely fatigued and uncomfortable.

So far, the child’s achievements have been mixed. He seems to have discovered an efficient means of acquiring food, yet he appears unable to comprehend simple questions from his two-year-old sister, including “Hey, what are you doing?” or “Would you pull my nose?” All of which means he’d be uniquely suited to cover the tax beat for ABC News if the opportunity presented itself for some reason.


[ 0 ] March 3, 2009 |

Tim Duy:

For Bernanke and Geithner, there are no bad assets. Only misunderstood assets.


The saddest part of policymakers who cling to the notion of intrinsic housing values is that economists long ago rejected the notion that such prices existed when they rejected the labor theory of value. Is Bernanke a monetarist, neoclassicalist, or a Marxist? Value is determined by a constellation of social conventions at some point in time. If the social convention is that financing is limited by ability to repay, then cash flow (largely income), not asset appreciation, is the appropriate metric for valuing houses.

There’s something about housing that makes people believe very, very strange things about economics.

[Via the Sultan of Shrill.]

…In fairness, as noted in comments below, the labor theory of value also seems to be making a big comeback among online conservertarians.

Working hard or hardly working?

[ 0 ] March 3, 2009 |

One of my favorite bits of right-wing nonsense is the meme being replicated on the internets by Glenn Reynolds et. al. this morning about how the problem with taxing high income earners is that they won’t “work hard” if they have to give more of their money to shiftless people who don’t “work hard” (i.e., lower income earners being supported by government handouts in the form of income tax wealth redistribution).

Dr. Sharon Poczatek, who runs her own dental practice in Boulder, Colo., said
that she too is trying to figure out ways to get out of paying the taxes
proposed in Obama’s plan.“I’ve put thought into how to get under $250,000,”
said Poczatek. “It would mean working fewer days which means having fewer employees, seeing fewer patients and taking time off.”“Generally it means being less productive,” she said.“The motivation for a lot of people like me
– dentists, entrepreneurs, lawyers – is that the more you work the more money
you make,” said Poczatek. “But if I’m going to be working just to give it back to the government — it’s de-motivating and demoralizing.”

I rarely see the logic of this argument challenged, despite its evident absurdity. The logic runs like this:

(a) “Working hard” means performing labor that is motivated solely by the need/desire to make money.

Note that in this sense of hard work, people who enjoy their work so much that they would do it anyway even if they were independently wealthy aren’t “working” at all. More generally, the only thing that counts as “hard work” are those aspects of your job that you dislike so much that you would never do them unless you were paid to. Obviously this describes at least some portion of almost everyone’s job, but the extent of that portion will vary widely, depending on the job.

(b) Personal income levels are excellent proxies for measuring the extent to which people are “working hard” in this sense of hard work.

In other words, our society on average consists of people who “work hard” who make lots of money and people who don’t. Higher marginal taxes on high earners thus have a net effect of moving wealth from relatively hard working people to relatively lazy people.

I’m sort of tempted to ask Professor Reynolds if this seems plausible to him. Does it seem plausible to him — a law professor who is probably paid around 200K a year by the great state of Tennessee to do whatever it is he does while performing what is technically his actual job — that he is “working” five times “harder” (using Wingnuttia’s definition of “hard work”) than a guy roofing houses in San Antonio in July who makes 40K a year?

If you think about it for five seconds it’s actually totally implausible that the correlation between “hard work” in this sense and increasing income is even mildly positive. To believe it is, you have to believe that highly paid high status professionals hate their work far more than working class people who are doing dangerous, physically taxing, and/or extremely boring work for low pay.

All of which is to say that the idea that the rich are rich because they “work hard” and the poor are poor because they don’t is too idiotic for words. It is, however, perhaps the prime article of faith of contemporary GOP ideology.

Update: I think it’s important to emphasize that the meme here — people who make a lot of money work hard, and their taxes go to those who don’t — exists quite independent of sophisticated claims about the possible effects of increases in the highest marginal tax rate on productivity. Those subtle arguments have nothing to do with the cultural work that’s performed by stuff like Reynolds’ commentary and the reader responses he posts. That’s all about reinforcing extremely simplistic narratives about hard work being rewarded by “the market,” and progressive taxes being a poison that undermines social virtue. Of course it’s possible to translate the idiot dentist’s comments into something that might sort of make sense under certain circumstances, but that’s not what these arguments are about. They’re about reinforcing the narrative that the rich are virtuous, the poor aren’t, and the government is simply stealing when it engages in progressive taxation (of course the U.S. tax system as a whole is barely progressive but that’s just another detail that gets ignored in these contexts).

Going John Galt!

[ 0 ] March 3, 2009 |

Classic. I especially like the one where it entails going on Medicare. Next: “Oh, I’ll take your money, but I’m not going to plow your driveway!”

Dubious Soldiers In A Good Cause

[ 0 ] March 3, 2009 |

While as most if you know I certainly agree with David RePass’s general hostility to the filibuster, some of his specific arguments here are problematic. His conclusion — that the solution to the problem of adding yet another onerous supermajority requirement to a constitutional order that already has too many veto points is to force “real” filibusters — is one you see a lot. And maybe it’s right, although I think this is a lot less clear-cut. Filibusters have become informal because they entail real costs to the majority as well, as the Senate can’t do anything while they’re ongoing. And while such arguments simply assume that the filibustering minority would at least take the political hit for this, it ain’t necessarily so. It comes down to competing narratives, and while most of the media might blame minority obstructionism they might also blame the majority for not playing nice enough with the Wanker Caucus. Maybe it’s a strategy that’s worth trying, but it’s no panacea, and could backfire.

This argument, though, I really don’t buy:

The phantom filibuster is clearly unconstitutional. The founders required a supermajority in only five situations: veto overrides and votes on treaties, constitutional amendments, convictions of impeached officials and expulsions of members of the House or Senate. The Constitution certainly does not call for a supermajority before debate on any controversial measure can begin.

This claim is, quite frankly, nonsense, just as it was when Republicans were making it before 2006. While it’s true that the Constitution does not require a supermajority for legislation to proceed in the Senate, it alas also explicitly gives the Senate plenary power over most of its rules and procedures, which doesn’t preclude any kind of supermajority requirement to end debates (whether formal or informal.) It debases constitutional arguments to make claims about “clear” unconstitutionality that are so poorly grounded. The better approach is just to approach the filibuster head-on: it’s a bad rule that imposes real costs while providing virtually no benefits in practice, and it should be changed. But not every bad rule is unconstitutional.

The Joe-the-Plumberization of the Press Corps

[ 0 ] March 3, 2009 |

This is quite possibly the silliet thing you’ll read all day. It’s what happens, I suppose, when a reporter who clearly has no idea how marginal tax rates work writes an article that (a) accepts the premise that someone making $249,999 a year would pay less than someone earning $250,000 and (b) derives a possible trend from two people scattered across the country who accept the same premise and are willing to deliberately reduce their incomes (including firing employees) to starve the gummint.

If the goal was to induce Glenn Reynolds to jabber about rich people “going John Galt,” I suppose the article’s not a complete waste of space.

The Effects of the End of Local Newspapers

[ 0 ] March 2, 2009 |

The creator of two of the five best series in modern television history notes one area where the impact will be particularly baleful:

In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it.

It seems highly doubtful that this is a gap that blogs will be able to fill.


[ 0 ] March 2, 2009 |

I can’t add much to what Greenwald says here and Wheeler argues here, but the Obama administration’s use of Yoovian theories of arbitrary executive authority are indeed appalling.

The Political Value Of Ideas

[ 0 ] March 2, 2009 |

I think that Chait is basically right here, especially where “new ideas” are concerned. There is a caveat, which is that ideas and quality of governance aren’t entirely inseparable; a Bush administration that didn’t have such catastrophically bad ideas as the invasion of Iraq and upper-class tax cuts as the only substantial economic policy wouldn’t have left the Republican candidate as vulnerable (and this is especially true in the 2006 elections, before the economy completely tanked.)

Just a wild guess

[ 0 ] March 2, 2009 |

I’m betting that according to Larry Kudlow this means we need to deregulate the markets and cut taxes.

2012 Too Early for Huntsman?

[ 0 ] March 2, 2009 |

Jon Huntsman certainly has an interesting strategy for making it through the 2012 GOP primary; it seems to be based on the assumption that the Palin-Huckabee-Jindal crazy wing of the party (which seems to represent ~70% of the party) will be divided enough to allow Huntsman to win several of the early primaries by occupying the center. Because of the structure of the Republican primary system, he could potentially build up a nice little delegate lead. Alternatively, Huntsman could just be hoping that the party establishment, perhaps chastened by additional losses in 2010, comes to its senses regarding the rightward drift.

There are several potential problems with the strategy. The first problem is that Huntsman won’t be the only candidate to occupy what passes for the centrist position in the 2012 primary; Mitt Romney will by all accounts be there, and Mitt will once again bring the money. The second is that, in all likelihood, the crazy wing will burn down to one candidate pretty quickly, and whomever that candidate is will then proceed to crush Huntsman (or Romney) for the rest of the primary season. And while I do think that the establishment will eventually rein the crazies in, I don’t think it’ll happen until 2016 at the earliest; the mantra for 2012 will still be “we lost because we’re not conservative enough”.

Then again, I’m glad I never published the post I wrote in 2005, with the excerpt “Wes Clark should coast to victory in the 2008 Democratic primary, but can he beat George Allen in the general?”

Coup in Guinea-Bissau…

[ 0 ] March 2, 2009 |

Or something, anyway:

Army troops shot dead the president of the tiny west African country of Guinea-Bissau early Monday, following a bomb attack that killed the army chief of staff, according to diplomats in the region.

News reports said army troops blamed the president, João Bernardo Vieira, for the death of the army chief, Gen. Batista Tagme Na Wai, who died in an explosion on Sunday night. Diplomats, who spoke in return for anonymity under customary rules, said the president was killed at around 5 a.m. in an attack outside his house and the country’s borders had been closed. “Nobody knows who is in charge,” one diplomat said. “Nobody knows what the army will do.”

Apparently, Guinea-Bissau has become one of the major points of transit for drug trafficking into Europe. The consequences of having lots of money and drugs transiting through the territory of a relatively undeveloped state are predictable. On a minor personal note, I represented Guinea-Bissau in a Model UN “light” exercise way back in high school. That really doesn’t mean anything, aside from the fact that I pay more attention when the name Guinea-Bissau passes through the NYT.