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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Now wouldn't you have rather spent all that money on jobs?

To the Koch Brothers, and all the other corporate interest that poured in hundreds of millions into an election, that, turned into an electoral rout:  wouldn't you have rather kept your money?  Maybe spent it on your businesses?  Maybe bought a new yacht?  Maybe given your employees raises, so they can go out and spend their money buying more of YOUR products?

Honestly, it's the most troubling thing about the Post Citizens United World.  I bet nearly a billion dollars was raised and spent by both candidates (all candidates really) this election season.  That's a bailout or five.

What a waste.

But... thanks to the American people for doing the right thing...again.

Go Bama Go!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Joe Biden cleaned the floor with Paul Ryan

Amen brother.  Eloquent, articulate, a fighter with actual facts.

Stop smirking Joe, you don't need to, when you're serious, you blow our minds.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Republican Convention-- A Poem in Free Verse

To MITT ROMNEY, a poem for you.

Yes yes, you love your five boys, and your wife's awesome at making children. 

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes, yes, everyone hates Obama, Obama hates America, and while we're at it Americans.

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes yes, everyone loves small business, everyone wants a job.

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes yes, you saved a few companies, and Obama hates success

Now what the hell are you going to do as President?

Yes yes, let's put aside divisivness and recriminations

Who wrote this speech anyway?

Ok bored now, I turn off.

Marco Rubio, Confuses the Republican Convention

So Marco Rubio is clearly the VP that Romney should have picked.  His speech was excellent.  And...except for a few words, could have been spoken at the Democratic convention.

I do not believe in American Exceptionalism.  Therein lay the seeds of fascism.  There are no exceptional peoples or nations.  There are just people, and just nations.

But Marco's speech was truly great.  Not its ideas, not its points, just its eloquence and style.  And about as Republican as a Bill Clinton.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cage Match: Bill or Coins - NPR PlanetMoney

On April 20, NPR did a podcast on whether or not the U.S. should switch from dollar bills, to dollar coins.

I don't have an opinion on this, I think whatever saves the government the most money ought to win.  However, of the arguments discussed, the last one, which made the journalists opt in favor of the dollar bill, seemed to be based on some specious logic.

Let's recap.

Arguments For the Coin
--Coin lasts longer, fewer printings, cost savings
--Easier to use in dispensing machines.
--Most western nations use them

Arguments For the Bill
--Cheaper, more coins need to be made.
--Seniorage, (government makes money off currency not in circulation, but ends up hurting consumer, as a sort of "tax" on earnings)
--The Coin Jar.

You'll note first of all, that both sides say they're cheaper.  Dollar bills are more expensive to produce, but, the "Coin Jar Effect" means that they will have to manufacture more coins to keep currency circulating since coins get saved in people's pockets and are ultimately transfered to jars where they are never used.

It seems to me that almost all of the points in favor of the bill depend upon this idea of "The Coin Jar" where money goes to die.

But it simply isn't true.  It stays there until the jar fills up, then it gets used.  Or it gets used everyweek in laundomats.  Or you bring your change to the bank in rolled collections and get dollars.  My wife and I do all of these things routinely. Growing up, I knew families that stored coins in upended water jars, the kind that Tina Fey has such difficulty lifting, and they would empty it out after a few years or so and take a vacation.  It isn't a tax at all, its a savings vehicle!

Anyway, I don't really care about coins versus bills, I just thought it wasn't a thoughtful argument and ought to be corrected.

Monday, July 30, 2012

EconTalk: Burkhauser on the Middle Class

So, again, late to the blog party as usual, but my comment today is on Econtalk's, April 9th, interview with Richard Burkhauser.  In it, Burkhauser refutes what us RavingLeftatics have been claiming for over a decade, about how the middle class is shrinking.

So Burkhauser's argument is simple.  It's not that Piketty and Saez were wrong, its just they measured the data differently than we did.  This was a highly technical podcast, and I won't pretend I understood everything I heard.  The way Piketty collected his data was to look at the figures and divide it by what they call the "tax unit" that is, the primary filer, adding his dependents, and/or including the income of a spouse.  Burkhauser instead, uses a number of person per household.  So Piketty's 1-3% growth, recalculated, is 15%.

I have a couple of thoughts on this.  Burkhauser makes a good point, in that a lot of young couples live together before marriage.  And so, there income is joint, and should be counted as such.  However, both he and Russ got a few things essentially (to my perspective) wrong.

Economies of scale are a grand thing.  But going from a one person household to a two person, or three person household does not a scale make.  Maybe its anecdotal, but when I moved in with my wife, she told me and I didn't believe her, "If you think this is going to save money, you're wrong." As she is with so many things.  She was right and I was wrong.

One person living by themselves is basically in subsistence mode.  They can skip meals, they can use pizza boxes for tables, they can have a whole box of blueberries for dinner.  They can do what they want, and that in and of itself, makes the calculus that backs the conclusion of this paper fundamentally wrong.

Now, maybe, (I didn't read the paper) but maybe there is an intermediary cited, another paper by this author, or another that says, "here is statistical evidence that families in economies of scale do on the whole spend less money."

But without that, the central mechanism for this conclusion to be true fails.  At some point, couples that live together are usually planning on making a life together.  At that point, their personal economies shift completely.  They "nest," they acquire things jointly, they start building joint resources, maybe they go in on health insurance together getting domestically partnered. And suddenly, they're spending more than they would before.  They're taking vacations together, they're visiting each other's family, they're buying food for two instead of skipping a meal because they had a big lunch.

Another thing I think both Roberts and Burkhauser misapprehend is that Burkhauser blithely states that "more and more people are living together," which is driving costs down.  Even assuming that living together is driving down costs, which clearly I don't, then maybe people are moving in together because they're cost of living is going down, not up.  That is the case for most of Europe, children live with their parents well into their thirties.  And they do so because housing is damned expensive, and there aren't enough jobs!

Last, what Roberts and Burkhauser ignore, and it seems likely that Piketty and Saez do as well (simply because as economists they are measuring just a few points of data) they ignore completely rising individual and household debt.  Given the recent crisis this seems like a grave omission.  But in all fairness, the papers are very explicit in what they do cover.  It's just disingenous to claim things are all rosy for the middle class when in fact most of us will probably never climb out of personal debt.

And then, he adds the value of health insurance.  This gets a little technical, and I don't really understand why.  Health insurance is a benefit, granted, but its one we pay for, and its not income.  If anything, its a tax on our earnings.  But clearly, his estimates rise from 23%, there was an intermediary step after 15% (government transfers, social security, unemployment, etc.) now all the way to 36%.  Why, the American middle class must have it better than ever! Frankly, health insurance isn't a privilege, its an entitlement.  In a civilized, fully functioning democracy, we should all have access to the best care.  Now, we shouldn't have coverage to get cosmetic surgery certainly, unless of course of a disfigurement, but basic medical needs are a critical issue in this country.

But why, on God's Greenish Earth, government transfers?  So, I can see where it might be useful: my parents are retirees.  The income they have is prinicipally from social security, and their remaining investments.  That money should be tracked.  And they are solidly in the middle class (not because of social security, but because of their investments), but this is not a statement of progress.  Most of the people who receive these benefits, must be in the waning years of their lives, tracking their data, isn't tracking a progressing movement at all.  When we measure income, we do not do so in a vacuum, we do so because there is a concern that there is a certain inequity or dearth in the workplace.  That is what we are looking to find out.  So adding all these other data points is simply making the picture more cloudly.

I should also note that Burkhauser graduated from the University of Chicago economics program, so we already know he has to be anti-Keynsian (though, in fairness, that is just an assumption!) One last point I'd like to make on Burkhauser is that in October of 2005, he was a panelist at a Bush economics forum event, and said the following, summing up his comments:

"The economy is fundamentally sound and if the current economic downturn is similar to those in the 1980s and 1990s, and I believe it is, we will soon be back on the path of economic growth."

Riiiight.  Maybe if Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual had moved in together things would have been rosy for everyone.
Burkhauser closes with a very interesting comment.  That he is in favor of the 50 years of government transfers.  His work essentially proves that government programs work--and yet, the very act of his acknowledgement makes it obvious that there is something wrong with our economy as it is.  If the only way median middle class income is "ok" is through additional government transfers and healthcare, than people are clearly not making enough money from their jobs.  And those "non-payment" benefits, health insurance, life insurance, in no way increase our life-styles.  They just keep us from sliding into poverty.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Jim Ross, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart

On Monday, both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert came down kind of hard on poor Jim Ross of ABC News. 

Albeit, it was a sloppy, amateurish mistake, though no one, including Mr. Ross seems to have told us how they found out it wasn't true.  I mean, that's a sort of important fact, did Mr. Holmes call up ABC and say what the heck or did the Colorado Tea Party call up and say, what the heck?

Why is that important?  Well--people who have openly associated with the Tea Party, have gone to political rallies, packing heat.  While Ross (and conceivably the whole news team) were at fault for allowing this flub to get on the air, it wouldn't in any way, shape or form, be an illogical leap to assume someone's political beliefs might impinge on their actions, however sick they may be.  And the Tea Party, if anything at all, is pro-freedom on a very small subset of rights that only people on the far right care about (again, see my post of earlier today, Guns, Gods and Gays).

Regardless--watching Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert lambaste Ross for an exceedingly common newsroom mistake, made me a little angry.

I'm frankly getting a little bit sick of the narrative that criticizing both the left and the right, somehow demonstrates fair and balanced commentary or reporting.  I feel like Jon Stewart, who was harsher than Colbert, probably set that one up for his buddy Bill O'Reilly. So that he can, at a later date, whine to him, but look at me, I did this, and Bill, in his melodious, deep voice, can say "Oh that's all right Jon, you're one of the good ones."

Both Stewart and Colbert's bits took up (combined) about 18 minutes of their respective 44 minutes of television.  You guys like to pretend about your truthiness and your values, but there is only one story tonight, and everyn ight until the firestorm goes away.  Why is there such poor gun control in this country?  No humor in this subject?  Clearly not, I've already posted some of The Onion's jibes.  And I've seen about a dozen jokes on facebook today about what cheeses are banned, and what guns are allowed, what requirements are mandatory for the acquisition of an automobile, and how easy it is to acquire guns in certain states.  To be fair, Jon's bit on this was pretty funny, but harping on Ross's flub draws away from the important aspect of this tragedy.  Which, I'm beginning to think, isn't the needless slaughter (that as Arthur Miller would say in his essay on tragedy, is just pathetic--his term, not mine) the tragedy is that we are doomed to repeat these senseless acts because we will not ever control guns in this country.

The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity, or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force.

And that is political.  And that is partisan.  And that Mr. Stewart, Mr. Colbert, is why you're wrong.