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Our Incompetence Means You Can’t Do Anything

[ 0 ] March 20, 2009 |

Via the Sultan of Shrill, the comedy stylings of Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy:

This package is partly based on the belief that government spending is required to stimulate the economy because private spending would be insufficient. The focus on government solutions is particularly disappointing given its poor record in dealing with crises in the US and many other countries, such as the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and failure effectively to prosecute the war in Iraq.

You’d think that their very first example wouldn’t be 1)an obviously necessary government function that 2)was the province of an agency that functioned at a very high level until George Bush got a hold of it. But apparently not. I trust that the Iraq example speaks for itself (although perhaps at least he no longer thinks that the cost of the war is being overstated. Perhaps he’s also abandoned his belief that attacking a country that had no connection to 9/11 and posed no significant security threat to the United States lessened the risk of a terrorist attack against the United States.)

And as a bonus, savor their example of the horrors that await us should the Bush Depression lead us to more state intervention:

Similarly, the backlash against capitalism and “greed” has been used to justify more antitrust scrutiny, greater regulation of a range of markets, and an expansion of price controls for healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Yes, it certainly would be horrible if this crisis meant that the United States adopted one of the health care systems of other liberal democracies and therefore got more coverage for less money with similar or better health outcomes. I’m very, very scared.


Natasha Richardson, 1963-2009

[ 0 ] March 20, 2009 |

A very tragic story, of course (which also occasioned some pretty creepy journalism.) I found her work in Schrader’s odd-but-compelling Patty Hearst especially, well, compelling.

See also Glenn and Lissa.

Pandering to non-Alaskan voters? You betcha!

[ 0 ] March 19, 2009 |

Pain rejects half of Alaska’s stimulus money.

Gov. Sarah Palin just told reporters that she’s accepting only 55 percent of the federal economic stimulus money being offered to Alaska. The governor said that she will accept only about $514 million of the $930 million headed to the state.

“We are not requesting funds intended to just grow government. We are not requesting more money for normal day-to-day operations of government as part of this economic stimulus package. In essence we say no to operating funds for more positions in government,” Palin said.

The biggest single chunk of stimulus money that Palin is turning down is $160 million for education. There’s also $17 million in Department of Labor funds (vocational rehabilitation services, unemployment services, etc.), about $9 million for Health and Social Services and about $7 million for Public Safety. The full list and the specifics aren’t available from the governor’s budget department yet.

The state’s aspiring teachers and state troopers, unemployed ConocoPhilips and FedEx employees will be delighted by the news. Perhaps they can all join the governor at Galt’s Gulch Wasilla, where the recession-immune crystal meth industry remains a vibrant part of the local economy.

Baby Carrier Commissioned

[ 0 ] March 19, 2009 |

Japan’s new aircraft carrier helicopter carrying destroyer was commissioned yesterday. Hyuga can carry up to eleven helicopters, and may in the future be able to carry the F-35B VSTOL fighter. But don’t call Hyuga an aircraft carrier.

In other maritime news, there is some confusion about the hull numbering for the LCS. US naval practice is never to re-use hull numbers, even if the ship in question is never built. This is why, for example, the original South Dakota was BB-49, and the second South Dakota was BB-57, despite the fact that the original South Dakota was never constructed. It’s also why there are wide gaps in the CV listings. Anyway, the Navy is violating this policy for the LCS; LCS 1 and 2 have been built, but 3 and 4 have been canceled, and the Navy now wants to re-use the numbers 3 and 4. Not the most earth-shattering news in the world, but now you know…

Via Kyle and Galrahn.

Leave the People Who Destroyed the World Economy Aloooooonnnnnne

[ 0 ] March 19, 2009 |

Ezra notes that “it’s really worth distinguishing what are two separate arguments. The first is that we can’t claw back the bonuses. That’s what outside counsel told AIG Chairman Edward Liddy (Liddy was appointed by the government in 2008 and will not receive any bonuses) but legal experts don’t think it’s true. If the government is sufficiently interested in pulling back the funds, it can do so. The second is that we shouldn’t claw back the bonuses. That’s what’s animating Liddy’s argument that “we cannot attract or retain the best and brightest talent” if the government is mucking with their compensation packages.” In addition to this, I can imagine a hard-headed pragmatic argument that it would cost the taxpayers more to rescind the bonuses than it would cost to keep them and the people who sold the world for magic beans would get most of their money anyway.

What’s amazing about Ruth Marcus’s column is that it’s primarily motivated not by potentially defensible 1) and 3) but the utterly indefensible moralistic version of #2. She starts off sounding like she’s making argument #3: “in the short run, hammering the AIG employees to give back their bonuses risks costing the government more than honoring the contracts would.” I would need some evidence for this, but maybe. But she then continues, and essentially argues that the idiots are morally entitled to received performance bonuses for ghastly performance and retention bonuses even if many of them leave:

The worst malefactors at AIG are gone. The new top management isn’t taking bonuses. Those in the bonus pool are making sums that for most of us would be astronomical but that are significantly less than what they used to make. Driving away the very people who understand how to fix this complicated mess may make everyone else feel better, but it isn’t particularly cost-effective.

Oh my, people responsible for losing a billion dollars a week and largely responsible for plunging the world into economic chaos are receiving a somewhat lower astronomical level of compensation — only a Millionaire Pundit Values Fred Hiatt minion could cry a river of tears over that one. The rest of her argument collapses on itself. If they were responsible for the massive losses they obviously don’t deserve the money. If none of the remaining people are among “the worst malefactors” — if they were just functionaries carrying out tasks conceived by others — how indispensable can they possibly be? And most remarkably, Marcus seems to place no weight on the fact that the people who made the company insolvent wouldn’t be receiving one thin dime if the market were being allowed to operate and the company deservedly went out of business.

But here’s where it gets really bad:

But, you ask, what about autoworkers who are being squeezed to renegotiate their contracts? Those renegotiations mostly involve the future terms of employment, though, it is true, they also could affect retiree health benefits. If an autoworker doesn’t want to show up on the assembly line under the terms of a new deal, he or she doesn’t have to.

The “true” qualification gives away the show. So, if I understand correctly, the agreed-upon non-salaried compensation of white collar workers is absolutely sacrosanct, while that of blue-collar workers can be casually dispensed with. And if blue collar workers don’t like re-written contracts they know where the door is, but if white collar workers who are either inconsequential or responsible for turning a profitable multinational corporation into a zombie wealth-destroyer threaten to leave into a horrible labor market — heavens to Betsy, let’s find a few more million to keep them aboard! Perhaps we can take it from the health benefits of retired manual laborers!

I think I understand the Marcus worldview, and boy, is it ugly.

Final Bracket Reminder

[ 0 ] March 19, 2009 |

Last reminder for filling out your tourney bracket.

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money
Password: zevon

The sound of one hand in his pants

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

If you’re in the market for a new Zen koan, you might reflect for a moment on the question of whether TIDOS Yankee writing for Pajamas Media is more or less inane than TIDOS Yankee writing for his own site. The fact that Bob Owens is, evidently, illiterate should surprise no one, but his his ability to discover an unseemly link between individual campaign contributions from AIG employees to Barack Obama and a government-sponsored bailout of the AIG corporation that began under his predecessor serves as a reminder of why he remains a Very Special Blogger.

Following TIDOS Yankee logic, AIG’s employees laid the groundwork for a 2008 bailout four years earlier, when they donated to the Bush campaign at a rate three times greater than they did for Kerry. Strangely, however, I don’t recall a similar burst of populist outrage and dot-connecting from Owens in September, when the US actually took an 80% equity share in AIG. Back then, of course, he was worried about more ominous perils to the republic. As John Cole puts it,

if you read Bob Owens during the campaign, you would have thought that Obama’s first priorities as President would have been to institute Sharia law, unionize ACORN and pay them 100 dollars an hour to go door to door taking away shotguns from white people, and then burn down every small business and build a mosque in its place. But, the times have changed, and now Owens informs us that President Obama is looting the treasury to send your tax dollars to companies that were by law forbidden from contributing to his campaign but he is sending them the money anyway, and even better, Obama managed to do it while Bush was President.

Furthermore, I thought that wingnuts were officially supposed to be flipped out that Obama was receiving donations in unscreened, small chunks from Homer Simpson, Osama bin laden, Daffy Duck and Raela Odinga. I’m so confused.

The Times Slot

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

After noting a creepily misogynist passage from the book of the man taking over the Billy Kristol Chair in Applied Bullshit at the New York Times, Brad DeLong offers some alternative suggestions:

…there is an awful lot here not to like, and an awfully good reason to think that Tyler Cowen or Kerry Howley or Virginia Postrel or any of a large number of other candidates would be an infinitely better choice for the job.

I certainly agree with this. But if I were inclined to be contrarian, I could raise one counterargument. Cowen and Howley are certainly much more impressive writers, but they’re also libertarians, and one can argue that while economic conservatism is vastly overrepresented among prominent pundits social conservativsm really isn’t (even granting that the social liberalism of major pundits tends to be pretty nominal.) So, to the extent that the Times feels a need for a conservative diversity hire, a cultural reactionary in the Douthat mode might be a better choice.

Having put forward this defense, allow me to disown it. First of all, there’s nothing very interesting about Douthat’s social conservatism. Whether it’s abortion or stem cell research, Douthat doesn’t have an especially proficient grasp of the underlying issues and with remarkable consistency ends up with little more than feeble rationalizations of whatever ludicrously incoherent position the GOP has on such issues at a given time. I’m not sure what the added value is here. And yet, I must admit that beyond Ramesh Ponnuru I can’t name anybody better suited to the slot.

And second, given the diversity of opinion (as opposed to quality reportage) available online, I also don’t think there’s any particular reason for a newspaper to reserve a slot for someone to defend the denial of fundamental rights to gays and lesbians, reactionary gender roles, etc. So I say given Kristol’s spot to Lithwick or Pollit. If they must have some diversity, give Bobo’s slot to Howley. And then while we’re dreaming we can talk about replacing Dowd and Collins with people who actually write about politics and a non-buffoon to write about foreign policy…

A shameful confession

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

When the whole “going Galt” meme got rolling a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea to what this phrase was alluding, possibly because, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never read a word written by Ayn Rand.

I suspect this counts as a gap in my liberal (snicker) education, and that I ought to remedy it in the least painful way possible. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead look real long, though, and from what little I’ve gathered about these texts they sound like they might make for some fairly turgid going. Is there something else I can read that would give me the gist of Rand’s thinking? Something more substantial than a wiki entry but less burdensome than a novel with 60-page speeches in it?


[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

Now that I’m more or less finished with my taxes, I can proclaim without reservation that I have, for the 34th consecutive year, successfully managed to keep my income below $250000. Take that, Barack Hussein Hitler Lenin Osama! I can only hope that society will realize the folly of constraining my creative energies through the medium of a modest increase in the marginal tax rate.

Please Don’t Tell Them About The Easter Bunny

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

Even for Maureen Dowd, repeating idiotic right-wing rube-running about how the politicians sometimes…use a TelePrompter is lame beyond all reason. Even more shocking, however, L, G & M has learned through its top-secret sources at all-powerful liberal policy wonk email listservs that…the President does not always compose his speeches himself!!!!!!!!!!!11!1!!111!!!!!1!

I’m sorry to shatter your illusions. Let’s hope the grownups are back in charge soon.

On Laptop Banning…

[ 0 ] March 18, 2009 |

While I see the logic, I also worry that if I banned laptop use in my classes I’d be deprived of the privilege of demanding that people look things up on Wikipedia during my lectures. And for some reason, I find making such demands to be endlessly entertaining. I’ve also never been particularly bothered by the notion that someone might be instant messaging during my lecture. That said, I can understand why instructors would worry that laptops detract from the lecture experience.

I’m teaching two courses this semester, and in spite of the fact that I have no policy on laptops, I find that people rarely use their laptops during History of Strategic Thought (which is conducted as a graduate seminar), yet regularly use their laptops during Defense Statecraft (which is a small lecture). This seems to work out pretty well for both courses.

Any laptop banning experiences, either positive or negative?