Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The real world

Via Diane Ravitch’s`blog comes this bit of news…the real world is business is a meme underlying our conversations in politics.

Well, this is good news!

Ohio Governor John Kasich’s proposal that teachers should be required to “job shadow” a business to learn about “the real world” has been shot down (thanks to Ohio Algebra Teacher for sharing!).

Democrats’ counterproposal that Kasich be required to spend 40 hours annually job shadowing people who work in public schools. That won’t pass either, but it was a nice response.

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7 Islands and 3 Branches

Jeff Sessions said “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,”

There has been considerable discussion of the phrase “an island in the Pacific”. With that phrase, Sessions made it clear that he considers Hawaii to be a second class state — not a real American state like Alabama. I have no doubt at all that he believes this largely because a majority of residents of Hawaii aren’t white. Our Attorney General is deeply racist and only sometimes able to hide this fact.

A Justice Department spokesperson added insult to insult by saying that Hawaii is indeed an island in the Pacific. This is true. Also Bora Bora is an Island in the Pacific. But Judge Watson didn’t issue his order while sitting on Bora Bora or the Island called Hawaii. he was sitting on Oahu, not Hawaii. The US State of Hawaii is an archipelago including 7 large islands only one of which is the island called “Hawaii” in the Pacific.

Sessions personally displayed spectacular geographic ignorance saying “I wasn’t diminishing the judge or the island of Hawaii, that beautiful place, give me a break.”

None of this is very important. What is important is that Sessions challenges the authority of a judge to declare an executive order to be unlawful. ““I was just making the point that’s very real: one judge out of 700 has stopped the President of the United States from doing what he believes is necessary to protect our safety and security.” Sessions has abandoned his claim that his view of what appears statutory and constitutional should count for more than a judges — that an attorney should be able to over rule a judge. Now he claims that the President’s judgement should count more than any (single) judges view of what the law says.

Judicial proceedings start with a single judge (whose judgments can be appealed). Plaintiffs do not have direct access to panels of judges. As noted by Hobbes roughly 370 years ago, the law without a judge amounts to mere ink on paper. Sessions’ clearly stated view is that the President should not be subordinate to any law or statute whatsoever. If no single judge can even temporarily stop him, the law can’t stop him. If no single judge can issue a preliminary injunction or a decision, then no panel of judges can hear the case.

Sessions declares that the USA is, and should be, an absolute monarchy.

He is an enemy of the constitution.

However, he has not committed treason (which requires making war not just declaring it) and has not committed another impeachable offence (he did commit perjury during his confirmation hearings and, of course, should be impeached, convicted, removed from office and, I think, disqualified “to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States”).

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It was actually quite amusing to see an article in my provincial newspaper a while back where two sides were arguing about a reduction in the work week, and you could play bingo with the excuses the anti-side used. There wasn’t an original idea in the whole article, as the pro-side was almost apologizing and got one paragraph of the six on offer. – “Salty,” comment at AngryBear.

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The Simpsons on Immigration

A post from 2006 on immigration by Kash Mansori seems timely…

The Simpsons on Immigration

Kash | March 28, 2006 1:31 pm

Simpsons aficionados among you already know that the Simpsons addressed the issue of immigration back in 1996, in the episode “Much Apu About Nothing”. Here’s a summary of the beginning of the episode, thanks to Wikipedia (Btw, I never would have guessed that Wikipedia contains entries on individual Simpsons episodes…)

On an ordinary day, a bear strolls onto Evergreen Terrace. It is quickly subdued by the police, not before accidentally shooting and capturing Barney Gumble. Homer rants about these “constant bear attacks”, even though this is the very first bear Ned has seen in his forty years of living on that street. Homer then leads an angry mob and demands that Mayor Quimby do something about this. Soon, the Bear Patrol is created, a useless organization which even makes use of a B-2 Spirit. Homer then gets just as shocked [as] when he saw the bear when he discovers that taxes have been raised five dollars to maintain the Bear Patrol.

After that, the angry mob returns to the mayor’s office, yelling “Down with taxes! Down with taxes!” The mayor has to do something…

Quimby: Are those morons getting dumber or just louder?

Assistant: [Takes a moment to check his clipboard] Dumber, sir.

Quimby: They want the bear patrol but they won’t pay taxes for it. This is a situation that calls for real leadership. [Opens the door to his office to confront the angry mob.]

People, your taxes are high because of illegal immigrants!

Moe Szyslak: Immigants! I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them.

Let’s not confuse fiction with reality, though. I certainly can’t believe that politicians in real life would ever raise the issue of immigration to cover up for their failures in other areas of policy, such as taxes, government spending, income inequality, education, health care…

Kash

Postscript: I’ve written in the dialogue from memory, so forgive me if it’s slightly off.

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The Boundless Thirst for Surplus-Labor

September 22, 1956

November 7, 1960

QUESTION. This is from Mr. White, Warren, Mich.

What is your stand on the 32-hour workweek?

Vice President NIXON: Well, the 32-hour workweek just isn’t a possibility at the present time. I made a speech back in the 1956 campaign when I indicated that as we went into the period of automation, that it was inevitable that the workweek was going to be reduced, that we could look forward to the time in America when we might have a 4-day week, but we can’t have it now. We can’t have it now for the reason that we find, that as far as automation is concerned, both because of the practices of business and labor, we do not have the efficiency yet developed to the point that reducing the workweek would not result in a reduction of production. The workweek can only be reduced at a time when reduction of the workweek will not reduce efficiency and will not reduce production.

It’s inevitable… but we can’t have it.

Dick Nixon’s turnaround on the issue of the four-day workweek was epic. His original prediction of  a four-day week “in the not too distant future” came in a prepared speech, not in some unguarded moment of overheated campaign hyperbole. He even disclaimed that his “projections” were not “dreams or idle boasts” but were based on the continuation of President Eisenhower’s economic policies.

Following up on Nixon’s 1956 prediction, United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther responded with a telegram calling on the administration to outline a legislative program to achieve the shorter workweek. Nixon sent a telegram in reply and President Eisenhower endorsed Nixon’s reply in a press conference on September 28.

Nixon’s reply was that “mere artificial legislation” would not accomplish a four-day workweek. What was necessary was “dedicated joint efforts of labor, management, government and research.” For his part, Eisenhower “saw nothing wrong with” Nixon’s answer, which he thought also represented his own view that it would be “wonderful” to have more leisure time, but that “no man can say it is going to come about because I say so.” A month after his first comment, Nixon reaffirmed his expectation of a shorter workweek, based on partnership between government, business and labor.

The adamant wording of Nixon’s 1960 dismissal of the idea takes on added resonance in the context of Eisenhower’s earlier caveat that “no man can say it is going to come about because I say so.” Four years later, it “just isn’t a possibility… we can’t have it now. We can’t have it now… [because I say so].”

This wouldn’t be the first time that self-contradiction has appeared in the rhetoric of opposition to shorter work time. The Sandwichman has amassed the world’s largest collection of lame excuses offered by opponents. I assembled 21 of them and sorted them into eight categories having to do with productivity, new consumer wants, unsatisfied needs, labor costs, government policy, self-adjusting markets, history and inevitability, and the devious motives of proponents.

To be kind, the rationales are opportunistic. Mostly, they are jejune partial equilibrium statements invoked as if they were eternal verities. More bluntly, they are mendacious. Every single reason given for not shortening the hours of work is complemented by a contradictory reason for not shortening the hours of work. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

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To me the common assertion about health care reform reform and tax reform makes no sense

Various people have argued that Republicans decided to repeal and (very partially) replace Obamacare before moving on to tax reform, because Obamacare repeal (aka the American Health Care Act aka AHCA) would make it easier to permanently cut tax rates. To me this makes less than zero sense. The argument is that, since AHCA includes tax cuts, tax reform would start from a lower base, so it would be easier to write a tax reform bill which doesn’t add to the deficit after 10 years. It is, in fact, necessary that bills not add to the deficit after 10 years for them to be passed using the budget reconciliation process which makes them invulnerable to filibusters.

However, I don’t see how preceding tax cuts make new tax cuts budget neutral. No one has explained how the exact same tax reform bill could be passed using reconciliation if it followed passage of the AHCA but not if it preceded passage of the AHCA. I know of no one who has argued that the CBO score of the effects of tax reform would be markedly different, or even argued that the sign of the change in the score would be favorable.

Rather the argument seems to be that with the AHCA tax cuts and the tax reform tax cuts, rich people will pay lower taxes than with the tax reform tax cuts alone. This is obviously true and has nothing to do with the order in which the bills are signed into law.

Jonathan Chait has been a prominent proponent of the view which makes no sense to me at all.

The next source of money is repealing Obamacare. The connection between the two issues might seem obscure, but it matters technically. The Republican plan to repeal Obamacare would eliminate all the taxes that were raised to help pay for the benefits — about $1.2 trillion over the next decade. This would lower the baseline of tax revenue, meaning that Republicans would need to design a tax code that raises $1.2 trillion less in revenue in order to be “revenue-neutral.” That makes it crucial for them to repeal Obamacare before they cut taxes.

I can cut and paste his argument. I can read it. But I can find no sense in it at all. Yes if taxes have been cut by $1.2 trillion, then a revenue neutral tax reform needs to raise 1.2 trillion less. But nothing whatsoever justifies Chait’s use of the word “before”. I can’t refute his argument, because I can’t detect it.

This matters, because it now turns out that Donald Trump is one of the people who have been convinced (presumably by Paul Ryan not Jon Chait).

“We haven’t failed — we’re negotiating, and we continue to negotiate, and we will save perhaps $900 billion … we have to do health care first to pick up additional money so that we get great tax reform.”

This argument too makes no sense (very much less surprising in the case of Trump than of Chait). For the reconciliation process, money can’t be picked up with one bill and spent on another. Each bill taken alone must not increase the deficit after 10 years. Now reactionaries consider the AHCA to include great tax reform, since it includes reductions in taxes on high incomes. But this doesn’t make further reductions easier. The order in which the bills are passed doesn’t matter.

In fact, the AHCA makes tax reform more difficult. The reason is that the AHCA benefit cuts are even larger than the tax cuts. So the maximum allowed fiscal 2027 deficit would be smaller if the AHCA were law. A bill which combined health care reform reform and tax reform could include even larger tax cuts than simple repeal of the ACA tax increases and be passed using reconciliation.

I honestly don’t get it. I’m sure I’m missing something. I am also sure, 100% sure, that, even if passage of the AHCA were to make it easier for the GOP to pass a tax reform bill, this wouldn’t be because the AHCA includes tax cuts or deficit reduction.

update: minds think alike.

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Which Is More Important, China Or Syria?

by Barkley Rosser {originally published at Econospeak)

Which Is More Important, China Or Syria?

For the world as a whole and the US in particular, when it is put like that it is pretty obvious: China.  It has the world’s largest population, largest economy in PPP terms, a rising military, expanding interests around the world, including making territorial demands on several neighbors, not to mention being a nuclear superpower as well as cyberpower, and more.  Syria has a population of 22 million and an economy half the size of Puerto Rico’s.  It is not a major oil exporter.

However, last week it certainly looked like Syria was more important.  President Trump meets with President Xi at Mar-a-Lago, and almost nothing is reported about the meeting other than some vague remarks.  Important matters such as trade policy (the US has initiated an  anti-dumping suit against China in steel), South China Sea issues, North Korea nuclear testing issues (US has just sent a major naval group towards the place), issues over currency management (with Trump long charging China with currency manipulation, even though it is now widely accepted that while they did it in the past the Chinese are not doing so now), climate change (where China is becoming world leader on the international policy stage while Trump claims that global warming is a “Chinese hoax”).  They barely had a press conference, and what really went on in the meeting remains largely mysterious.

So, wow, much better to have the headlines and the commentaries taken up with the apparently one-shot firing of 59 Tomahawk missiles at a base in Syria, after apparently warning both the Russians and the Syrians we were going to do it, in response to a chemical attack in Syria that killed about 80 civilians, including some children.  This was certainly a bad attack, but it remains unclear if it was the Syrian military or some rebel groups, although probably it was the government, and if it was the government, it is unclear if it was done by some local commander on his own or with the explicit orders of President Assad, and if the latter, was it done with the foreknowledge of their allies, the Russians, and most especially President Putin.  The Russians and Iranians are claiming that the rebels did the chem weapons attacke and are denouncing the US attack.  But who really knows?  I sure as heck do not, and I  am not sure anybody in the US government knows either, especially given the 25 reasons that have since been given for this by various administration officials.

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Only So Much To Go ‘Round

The Sandwichman commented the other day on The Economist article, “Britain’s Green Party proposes a three-day weekend.” Regrettably, though, I didn’t pay much attention to their “rebuttal” to the alleged assumption of a fixed amount of work:

In fact, if people worked fewer hours, demand would drop, and so fewer working hours would be on offer.

I have seen stupid explanations before of why there is not a fixed amount of work. Layard, Nickell and Jackman argued that if work time reduction and redistribution succeeded in reducing unemployment, it would be inflationary and that would probably cause the central bank to intervene to re-establish the “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment.” That’s pretty stupid but not nearly as stupid as what The Economist article claimed as “fact.” Pardon me for repeating the whole dreadful argument:

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Thank God it’s Boilerplate!: The Economist is lumping its labour

by Sandwichman

Thank God it’s Boilerplate!: It’s Thursday and The Economist is lumping its labour

The Economist and Jonathan Portes are at it again. “Lump of labor! Lump of labor!” The occasion? A proposal for a four-day workweek announced by the U.K. Green Party at their convention this week in Liverpool.

 The Economist pretended to find “two problems” with the Greens’ proposal:

The Greens’ proposals encounter two problems. First, the theory. They argue that the reduced hours worked by some could be redistributed to others in order to lower underemployment. They thus fall prey to the “lump of labour fallacy”, the notion that there is a fixed amount of work to be done which can be shared out in different ways to create fewer or more jobs. In fact, if people worked fewer hours, demand would drop, and so fewer working hours would be on offer.

Second, the cost. Increased productivity could cover some of the costs of paying a five-day wage for a four-day week, suggests Sarah Lyall of the New Economics Foundation, a think-tank. She points to a Glasgow marketing company that did just that, and experienced a 30% leap in productivity. But that is an astonishing increase to expect across the board.

First the theory: why does the idea of redistributing work require a “fixed amount of work to be done”? I can cut up a pie in many different ways. I can also cut two, three, many pies in different ways. In what sense does redistribution imply a constant amount? It doesn’t.

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A little bit about our supreme court and corporate power

In case you did not see this, it is my Senator’s opening comments at the Gorsuch hearings.  He sums up just what a 5/4 split court has been doing.

 

This is his discussion on Cspan about his book: Captured: The Corporate Infiltration of American Democracy

 

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