A year ago, you could have put everything I know about Austrian economics into a mosquito and still have room for a Republican's heart. But some theory on the net didn't pass the smell test, so I did a bit of research. And I was amazed. It was like finding out George W. Bush was a Yale graduate. Eli, Eli Yikes.
Imagine arguing with someone who says history doesn't matter because things change all the time. And that measurements don't matter because context is never dependable. And that numbers don't matter because they miss more basic truth. Now imagine the person you are talking with is not only NOT President Bush, but is actually a self-described economist. An economist who hates economic data, history, measurement, and numbers. Now go even farther. Imagine that the economist dismisses the concepts of supply and demand lines as not worth considering. You know what you have? No, NOT a former half -term governor.
What you end up with is a follower of Austrian economics. I'm not making this up. They were a major intellectual force a hundred years ago. This was a group best explored for their entertainment value.
Okay, I exaggerate. The Three Stooges would be better entertainment.
Austrian economists rejected what they termed continuity. This is what they called the predictive value of economic experience. The future usually resembles the past in very useful ways. Water boils at a specific temperature while at sea level. Tomatoes seldom grow on banana trees. Most study of the real world looks at what actually happens, speculates on why the world acts as it does, then makes predictions based on that speculation, then looks again to see if the real world acts as predicted. Austrian economists rejected all that. The world is chaos, unrelated to the past. Hey, LIVE with it.
They rejected measurements. They called the notion that measurements have any usefulness in economics "Differentiability." They held it in scorn.
Remember Adam Smith's invisible hand, the intersecting lines of Supply and Demand? They called those lines Income and Substitution and they regarded them as fictional. Useless to even think about. "Income" one would say to another at the annual Austrian convention. "Substitution," would be the reply. Then both would dissolve into hysterical laughter. "Cardinality" was simply an obstacle to deeper insight. That's what they called numbers: Cardinality. They were somewhat prudish in their own way, disapproving of cardinal knowledge. Ha ha ha. Okay, let's move on.
They published papers that were pretty much entirely theoretical. No numbers, measurements, or history. Their work was based on what they thought of as pure logic. They simply projected the way the world ought to be. If Stephen Colbert had a television program a hundred years ago (he didn't, actually) he might have referred to their ideas as truthiness. It was subjective, because any attempt of real-world objectivity was proclaimed to be an impossibility.
They eventually faded from sight never to be seen again. Boy, was THAT a relief. Did I say never? To the mirth of economists who deal with ... you know ... economics, the movement was lifted from obscurity by the nascent Tea Party movement. How surprising that this group would embrace a no-evidence, whatever-you-feel-must-be-true school of thought. Okay, so maybe I'm just a little sarcastic on that.
In fact, the modern version of Austrianism has evolved into a sort of Beckian incarnation.. That may be why Glenn Beck is a chief sponsor of the resurgence. Today's neo-Austrians sort of make up facts as they go along. Our friend T. Paine of Saving Common Sense inadvertently provided an apt illustration in a comment he contributed here yesterday. He links to Thomas E. Woods, Jr. of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. von Mises was what you might call an iconoclast. He fought for the gold standard, was a Ron Paul fan before Ron Paul was born, and eventually came to a blind adherence to what he called Methodological Individualism. Methodological individualism was a philosophical approach to economics that rejected such mundane concepts as statistical analysis. Among the honors Thomas E. Woods, Jr. lists on his website are appearances on economic panels like the G. Gordon Liddy Show and the Dennis Miller Show. He is known as an advocate of Nullification, remembered for it's most notable spokesman John C. Calhoun, back during slavery. Ah, those were the days, Mr. Woods.
Anyway, Woods from the House of von points to a severe recession that started just before Warren Harding took office as President. Harding, says Woods, put in tough reductions in spending and things got better right away. Pretty much the opposite of what those of us among the unenlightened think should have happened. Now let's be up front about this. The recession of 1920 and 1921 really did happen, and it really did stop, and President Harding really was in office when it stopped. Wanna know the rest?
Recessions can start for a number of reasons. Sometimes monetary policy shrinks money supply and we all run like rabbits to our holes, making things worse. Usually, interest rates are low and demand is way less than supply. So money is hard to get and nobody is buying anything. Workers lose their jobs and things get worse. They can really get bad. In the 1930s people sold apples on street corners to survive.
In 1920, the recession was a little unusual. Interest rates were low. Money was easy to get. Supply and demand met about the same spot, but the volume of buying and selling went down. Oh come on. Ask me why!!
Well, folks were scared. The new federal reserve board made ordinary people really nervous, especially when the new Fed started shrinking money supply. It was not a smart tactic. But it wasn't that radical a move. Shouldn't have caused that much effect. But the country had just come off the gold standard and conservatives were yelling LOUD that ruin was about to engulf everyone. William Jennings Bryan had made his famous Cross of Gold speech (Oh man, what a speech!) a quarter century before. Everyone knew he was a dangerous radical, and yet he only wanted to go to from a gold standard to gold and silver. Jumping off gold completely? Oh my. So everyone thought everyone else might get scared, which really scared everyone. Best to get scared ahead of the crowd. So people stopped buying OR selling. Lots of money was around, but it wasn't being spent and lots of goods were around but they weren't being offered for sale.
Like most purely emotional jags, it didn't last. Things picked up quickly. In fact, the 1920 recession was, as it was then called, a panic. Like crazy rumors causing a run on toilet paper. A year later it was gone like a fart in the wind.
I don't mind pointing out that the Fed did loosen money quite a bit in 1921, thus helping, in a Keynesian way, to promote a recovery. No claims. Just sayin'. And the part about new Harding spending cuts providing a working solution? Au contraire, Pierre. Harding mostly just held onto tight policies already put into place by Woodrow Wilson. A person of less pristine honesty than myself might blame those Wilsonian spending cuts for the 1920 recession, but that would be so beneath me. Plus I wouldn't get away with it.
Double plus the main economic expert who does support T. Paine is kind of scary. Enjoy:
Well, I didn't say, what I said is that if it would mean only serving one. I didn't close the door on two but I think it is important to be serious enough about the issues that if it men not being able to run for a second term, I think dealing -- we need to get serious now. We can't be about anyone's political career. We have to get serious quickly now and turn the country around, get it back on track.
You've warned your teenager to be careful on her Harley. Maybe you should have been even more strict. But she had saved up her own money and so you had allowed her to make the purchase. And now she lays on the street outside your house, broken and bleeding. In a rare stroke of luck, a witness to the hit-and-run happens to be a doctor. "She's lost a lot of blood," he tells you. "It has to be replaced as soon as possible."
An ambulance arrives. A technician quickly examines the unconscious girl. "She still has her tonsils," he says. "We'd better remove them right now. Otherwise, in a few years they might get infected." The doctor begins to lose it. He asks if the tech has gone berserk. Get her blood pressure back up. Let her recover from her injuries. Then you can talk about a tonsillectomy. Removing more blood as she lays bleeding is the worst thing you can do.
So do you:
Tell the technician to go ahead with the tonsil removal?
Demand that the technician give her blood if possible and get her to the hospital like the doctor says?
- Praise the technician for behaving responsibly about the tonsil problem and urge the doctor to compromise?
The great never-ending governmental budget debate has been pretty much exclusively about deficit reduction. Should it be done by dramatic reductions in Medicaid for poor folks, accompanied by abolishing Medicare for everyone else? Should Head Start be eliminated? How about eliminating consumer protection and environmental regulation? Republicans answer yes to all of those. Should the deficit be cut by raising taxes? Should that be targeted mostly at the extremely wealthy, those receiving the greatest advantage from a decade of tax cuts? Most Democrats favor that side of the ledger. There is another side.
History tells us why the Depression Got Really Bad:
President Herbert Hoover said the government should tighten it's belt, like the rest of America.
The government tightened it's belt, like the rest of America.
- That made the Depression become the GREAT Depression.
History tells us how the Great Depression Ended:
Under FDR, the US government spent money.
The US government spent even more money and things got better.
Pearl Harbor, World War II. Attacks and a lot of danger.
Fighting for our lives, the US Government spent HUGE amounts to defeat the Nazis and the Empire of Japan.
- All that spending ended the Great Depression and prosperity came.
It is a highly abbreviated summary, to be sure, a Reader's Digest condensation. Not all of the direction was upward. In 1937, for example, FDR got concerned about the deficit and cut spending. This threw the economy downward and hurt a lot of people. But he reversed that course and the recovery resumed.
It really is a good idea to cut down the national deficit. In times of looming inflation and lowering of government bond prices, it can become an urgent necessity. Going further and eventually retiring part of the national debt will serve future generations. Who should feel the pain serves as a legitimate national debate. It should not be the only debate.
The vital question, the question ignored by Democrats, Republicans, and self-appointed journalistic referees, is when. The recovery is unmistakable, but it is still rickety. A lack of jobs is the greatest current threat to an alarming number of Americans. The large number of working people, having involuntarily become non-working people struggling to survive, need this recovery.
Before we perform a tonsillectomy on the teenager bleeding in the street, we should at very least consider the timing.
STEVE DOOCY: And the thing about it that was audacious was the fact that he [Sen. Harry Reid] was talking about Planned Parenthood being this great provider where women can get blood pressure checks, and pap smears, and breast --
BRIAN KILMEADE: Which you can get at Walgreens.
DOOCY: --examinations. Exactly right.
- - Fox & Friends, April 9, 2011
Neither Walgreens, nor its in-store healthcare clinics, Take Care Clinics, offer pap smears or breast exams.
- - Lauren Nestler, Take Care Clinics, Walmarts, April 11, 2011
Reporting from Danville, Va.—
When home furnishing giant Ikea selected this fraying blue-collar city to build its first U.S. factory, residents couldn't believe their good fortune.
Beloved by consumers worldwide for its stylish and affordable furniture, the Swedish firm had also constructed a reputation as a good employer and solid corporate citizen. State and local officials offered $12 million in incentives. Residents thrilled at the prospect of a respected foreign company bringing jobs to this former textile region after watching so many flee overseas.
But three years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.
We on the leftward half of the spectrum have, depending on disposition, fun or outrage at climate change deniers. Senator Jame Inhofe published a list of "Over 400 Prominent Scientists" who consider themselves climate change skeptics. We laughed at some of the names.
One of the prominent scientists was a TV weatherman from Kentucky, whose reasoned, scientific objection was this: "What these environmentalists are actually saying is ‘we know more than God— we're bigger than God — God is just a fantasy — science is real.'" The fellow is hardly a fraud, however. When he was sought out and interviewed, he denied being a scientist at all. He pointed out that he does not have a college degree.
Others on the Inhofe list were also interviewed. There was another weatherman from Brazil, another from Chicago. In all, 44 of the scientists were just weather broadcasters. One "scientist" turned out to be a web designer in Vermont. The number of actual scientists were quite small. Many were from other branches, having nothing to do with climate. 20 economists were included.
The entire list was composed of names virtually all of which were laughable. Virtually.
Everyone stopped laughing when we got to Richard Muller. Muller is a genuine no-nonsense scientist. He is a physicist who specializes in surface temperature. In fact, he heads up the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study. This is not a news weather broadcaster or a technician checking instruments in the Canadian wilderness. He's the real deal.
Our main defense against that sort of thing, the finding of an occasional scientist with an unusual point of view, is that for every such voice, there are 2000 legitimate voices that carry the preponderant evidence. Most of the very small number opposing climate change are funded by industries presumed to be the cause of gas emissions. But perhaps we can also consider the specific argument the lone voice advances.
Muller's main objection to mainstream science, in this case, has been that the raw material on which it is based is not representative. Scientists a hundred years ago did not envision the global effect of carbon emissions. Motivations for putting up measurement devices were eclectic. They varied widely. In some cases, they were put up for pure science. In some cases, there was some cause for researching a specific effect in a specific geological location.
What that means is that the data being gathered for comparison purposes is not at all representative of temperature all over the earth. It isn't some sort of scientific conspiracy. Placements will be near areas that were accessible way back when. In most cases, this means areas that would experience population growth. Rural areas would become suburban, or even urban. More remote areas would be underrepresented in all the graphs and charts scientists analyze. So the comparison of temperature might well over-represent an increase in temperature. Even if it didn't it could well over-represent the human factor in global climate change.
Conservatives got to really like Richard Muller. They went from like to love when he got the National Climatic Data Center to concede that some weather station data could be of poor quality. Muller put unprecedented resources to work on the effect of the data distortions. He was able to isolate the best data, that going from 1957. Republicans pushed for him to testify as if he represented mainstream scientific consensus. He spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee of Science, Space and Technology on March 31.
His analysis showed that there was indeed a significant amount of distortion. Global climate change turns out to be significantly worse than had been previously measured. And it is most definitely anthropological. That means it is caused by human activity. The conclusion is based on solid data. "The world temperature data has sufficient integrity to be used to determine temperature trends."
Conservatives reacted quickly. Activist Anthony Watts attacked Richard Muller, who had been his hero, as a sellout. His testimony was "post-normal political theater."
What has once again been demonstrated in the congressional petri dish is a scientific principle. In most cases, mere evidence will not convince a person of the truth, if that person's salary depends on denying the truth.
A virtual choir of 2052 across 58 countries perform "Sleep", composed and conducted by Eric Whitacre.
The evening hangs beneath the moon
A silver thread on darkened dune
With closing eyes and resting head
I know that sleep is coming soon
Upon my pillow, safe in bed,
A thousand pictures fill my head,
I cannot sleep, my minds aflight,
And yet my limbs seem made of lead
If there are noises in the night,
A frightening shadow, flickering light…
Then I surrender unto sleep,
Where clouds of dream give second sight.
What dreams may come, both dark and deep
Of flying wings and soaring leap
As I surrender unto sleep
As I surrender unto sleep.
When a National Day of Prayer was signed by Harry Truman in 1952, it was seen as a rebuke to godless communism. It is hard today to imagine just how important that idea was in those days. In a typical cinematic work about an FBI investigation, agents follow a Soviet spy, wondering where he is headed. Jimmy Stewart, in a voice over, rules out one Sunday destination. "Because he was a communist, we knew he wouldn't be going to church."
Still, worship was seen by a growing number as a private matter. When a National Day of Prayer was proclaimed by Congress, it was so "the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals."
It kind of skirted primal principles of church-state separation. A recent Senate report falsely concludes that the Constitutional Convention had urged a time of prayer before each legislative session. They didn't. In fact, when Benjamin Franklin suggested the convention itself begin each day with prayer, the idea was rejected. But Presidents, beginning with Abraham Lincoln, had called for prayer during times of crisis. So the tiny breach had some precedent. And the "prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals," seemed ecumenical enough.
When John F. Kennedy felt compelled in Houston to explain to conservative pastors his religious convictions, it was not because he might not be religious enough. Rather the concern was that he would cross the line of church and state. He was Roman Catholic. Would he be taking orders from the Pontiff in Rome? He promised he wouldn't, so he was okay to become President.
I have no problem with a National Day of Prayer. To me, it's sort of like the "In God We Trust" on our money, a small anomaly that is still sufficiently respectful of differences. No one is compelled to participate. No trust money is expended.
What does concern me as a Christian is the renewed emphasis of many of my brethren on the vengeful God of thunder. Any representation of God is necessarily false. The Apostle Paul, I think, has it right when he contemplates a Lord of all who is beyond what we know or can even imagine. My own predilection is toward the still small voice, as Jesus takes his place within the human heart. The eternal question is one of spirituality, our relationship with God, closely followed by that of our relationship with each other.
I know others don't see it that way. A friend explained that when the veil was torn in the temple during the crucifixion of Christ, it changed the moral universe. That's when slavery, for example, became wrong. God as Thor became the God of Harry Potter. Mutter your prayer correctly, and amazing things will happen for you. But you have to get the words right. None of this Allah stuff can go in the incantation.
Some of yet simpler faith still embrace and fear the Lord of Thor, ever vengeful and ready to strike. Walk quickly from those who blaspheme. You don't want to be in the way of any stray sparks when the lightning strikes. One group pushing the National Day of Prayer moves us a bit beyond the individual message of quiet meditation and individual prayer. A video warns of the dark clouds about to consume our nation if enough of us don't participate quickly in the divinely ordained Congressional mandate.
It isn't so much that God will not love us, or that Jesus did not die for us. We are still shown a better way to live, each life's path guided by the inner voice of human worth. But it's much more important that we embrace the new magic. We must go back to a simpler faith: a faith in God's gift to Prometheus, the holy fire, the magic wand, the pixie dust that works if we close our eyes and believe: a faith in Jesus as Peter Pan, battling against Captain Hook.
Here is their warning.
Heed and obey lest the blood of the nation be on your hands.
Jefferson Smith loves a good political joke.
Early last year, the then-freshman Oregon House member from Portland was getting ready for bed when he and his wife, Katy, began bantering back and forth about what might be the ultimate political prank, something that could lighten the increasingly divisive political mood among his colleagues.
T. Paine's Saving Common Sense makes the point that problems can't all be solved by soaking the rich. Sadly, he obscures a legitimate point by wildly exaggerating the view of those with whom he disagrees. Building up a straw man, then triumphantly knocking him down.
Chuck Thinks Right notices an archeological find. An ancient man buried as a woman would be buried in that culture. Speculation is divided on whether the 5,000 year old man was gay, was transgendered, or that the whole thing means nothing at all. Chuck, being Chuck, concludes that archeology is a waste.
Nancy Hanks at The Hankster notes the rantings of a potential progressive third party candidate. Unlike 2000, it isn't Nader. But the siren song is the same. Last time it gave us the eight year long enlightened rule of Bush/Cheney/Rove. But, if at first you don't succeed, keep trying until everyone's life is miserable.
- James Wigderson waxes sarcastic on the latest electoral screw up in Wisconsin. They lost, but found, an entire city?.
This weekend, we must contemplate how the Republican campaign against women's health and Planned Parenthood connects to the promised laser-like focus on jobs. Give up? So do we all.
"This is NOT why we voted for you, sir!" The letter to the editor was an open complaint to the recently elected President Ronald Reagan. The writer was angry about the slowdown in approval of Social Security claims. Newly appointed administrators seemed almost hostile to those applying for benefits. Foot dragging was hurting the disabled and seniors. The correspondent said he had voted for the Republican, but he never suspected that the new President would turn his back on folks like him.
I was in town visiting my dad. We sat at the kitchen table. I sipped on coffee as he read the letter to me. When he finished, he went back to the indignant "This is NOT why we voted for you" part. We looked at each other for a moment. "What the heck is wrong with that guy?" he finally said. "Not paying attention, I guess," was the best I could come up with.
Ronald Reagan had always been up front about his hostility toward Social Security. It was one of the reasons he didn't become President 4 years earlier. Running against President Ford, candidate Reagan was clobbered in Florida. The problem was older Americans. They had heard Ronald Reagan propose ways to privatize Social Security. Not long before the letter to the editor he had announced his intention to restructure the program in ways not yet defined. Jimmy Carter had tried to use it against him. It was hardly an unknown issue.
This year is a little different. Democrats had endorsed a plan to streamline Medicare, pushing more benefits to actual care, and less to private corporations. Medicare Advantage was an unexpectedly high cost program, with payments to companies far in excess of benefits to seniors. So, of course, Republicans pushed hard on it. Democrats were going to slash billions from senior health care. In attack politics, context is always the other guy's problem.
"When he got to Washington, Congressman Ellsworth voted for the largest cuts in Medicare history - over $500 billion," a narrator in the 2010 ad said. "That's right, Ellsworth voted with Nancy Pelosi to force seniors into Barack Obama's government-run health care program, reducing the protection Medicare provides. That's wrong. Dan Coats will fight to strengthen Medicare and protect seniors."
And Dan Coats is Senator Coates.
This transcript is still on the Toomey website in Pennsylvania:
I’m a lifelong Democrat, but this year I’m voting for Pat Toomey. Washington has gotten so extreme and Joe Sestak is a big part of it. The health care law went too far, even forcing changes to my Medicare coverage.
And Pat Toomey became Senator Toomey.
The Obama plan, the one attacked by Republicans, is designed to cut costs by forcing insurance companies directly into the firing line, competing for customers and negotiating with hospitals and suppliers.
The new Republican plan to abolish Medicare and replace it with a voucher program is different. It will cap costs through market forces. Seniors will now have an incentive to get confrontational as medical costs rise. This incentive comes from forcing the elderly to pay any difference.
If anyone writes to the editor this year, I can suggest an opening line.
From the Star Tribune:
Jesus is said to have walked on water, but according to the St. Paul City Council he can't stand at the edge of a Mississippi River bluff.
On a 5-2 vote, the council Wednesday rejected Tuan Pham's request for a zoning variance to keep his back-yard statue of Jesus in the current spot high up on the West Side bluffs.
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan would get about two-thirds of its more than $4 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years from programs that serve people of limited means, which violates basic principles of fairness and stands a core principle of President Obama’s fiscal commission on its head.
The plan of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who co-chaired President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, established, as a basic principle, that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or inequality or hurt the disadvantaged.