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

More Right Wing Lies – Now As In The Roaring 20′s

Amity Shlaes, the disinformation bunny, is still going.  In the latest issue of Imprimus, a publication of Hillsdale College, is a transcript adapted from a recent talk she gave there during a conference on the Income Tax, sponsored by Hillsdale’s own Center for Constructive Alternatives and the Ludwig von Mises Lecture Series.  Right away, you know this is going to be good.  The Title of her contribution is Calvin Coolidge and the Moral Case for Economy.  Of course, by economy, she means austerity.

There is so much wrong here it’s both impressive and depressing.  Rather than give her the full FJM treatment, which would take more time and energy than she deserves, I’ll just hit on a couple of the lowlights.  Here is her opening paragraph.

With the Federal debt spiraling out of control, many Americans sense an urgent need to find a political leader who is able to say “no” to spending.

Here we go. Her first sentence is an exercise in made-up right-wing talking point mythology.  I’ve already exploded the ‘Obama is a profligate spender” myth, here, here, and here. Further, we have just lived through three years when federal spending was close to flat line, as Graph 1 shows.  

 Graph 1 – Flat Federal Spending Under Obama 

There is only one comparable period in post WW II history, 1953-56, during Eisenhower’s first term, as shown in Graph 2.   Still, over Ike’s full term, spending grew by about 30%.

 Graph 2  Not So Flat Spending Growth Under Eisenhower (’53-’60)

To suggest that federal dept is now  “spiraling out of control” due to excessive spending is not merely disingenuous.  It is a sign that either Shlaes has no earthly idea what she’s talking about, which in an alleged journalist, is unforgivable, or it’s a bare-faced lie, which is unforgivable for anybody.  And if many Americans are feeling the urgent need to curtail government spending, it’s because they have been lied to so repeatedly and often that they have no idea what the truth is.  As Krugman recently put it: “And I have to say, it’s extremely telling that conservative Republicans don’t seem able to make their case without resorting, right from the beginning, to obviously dumb fallacies.”  The truth is that if we have a debt problem, it is due to a shortfall in revenues.

Yet they fear that finding such a leader is impossible.

Its not clear who made Shlaes the spokesperson for this sorry, disenfranchised segment of the population, nor that this is indeed what they fear.  Perhaps we should introduce Shlaes and the rest of these Real Americans to the real President B. Hoover Obama.

Conservatives long for another Ronald Reagan.

This is probably correct, though as Shlaes goes on to demonstrate, conservatives in this way – and, alas, right-wingers almost always – are rather badly disconnected from reality.

He was of course a tax cutter, reducing the top marginal rate from 70 to 28 percent.  But his tax cuts – which vindicated supply side economics by vastly increasing federal revenue – were bought partly through a bargain with Democrats who were eager to spend that revenue.

Wrong again.  The reality is that Revenue growth under Reagan was the worst of any 20th century President, post Eisenhower, except for the unfortunate Bush, Sr. under who’s recession plagued regime Reagan’s buzzards came home to roost. And was it really the Democrats who spent that anemic revenue stream, or did it go to Reagan’s Star Wars fantasy?

Reagan was no budget cutter.  In fact, the federal budget grew over a third during his administration.

Here, she finally gets something right, if by “federal budget” she means Total Outlays, and by “over a third” she means over 80%  [as measured from 1980 to 1988.]

Things get really egregious further on in the section titled “The Purpose of Tax Cuts.”  She informs us that President Coolidge and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon campaigned to lower top rates from the 50′s to the 20′s.

Mellon and Coolidge did not win all they sought.  The top rate of the final law was in the forties.  But even this reduction yielded results – more money flowing into the treasury – suggesting that “scientific taxation” worked.  By 1926, Coolidge was able to sign legislation that brought the top marginal rate down to 25%, and do so retroactively.

I was surprised to learn that Coolidge and Mellon had anticipated the Laffer curve by 6 decades.  Let’s have a look at how more money flowed into the treasury. In 1922 and ’23, with a top marginal rate of 56%, tax revenues were $2.23 and 1.69 billion respectively. [Per FRED, 1923 was a recession year]  In 1924, with a top rate of 46%, total revenues were $1.79 billion.  This is what Shleas calls “more money flowing into the treasury.”  Here’s a bigger picture look.  In 1920, when the top marginal rate was 73%, receipts were slightly over $4 billion.  In 1925, when the top marginal rate was 25%, receipts were $1.7 billion, less than half of the 1920 value, and by 1929 had only increased to 2.23 billion.  Graph 3 shows revenues per year [Coolidge's term highlighted in red,] and belies Shlaes’ assertion.

 Graph 3 Income Tax Revenues, 1915-1930

Graph 4 shows a scatter plot of this same data, with revenues as a function of top marginal rate, Coolidge years are again highlighted in red.

Graph 4 Top Marginal Rate and Tax Revenues, 1915-1930

A best fit straight line is included.  There’s lots of scatter, for a variety of reasons, but the upward trend – the exact opposite of Shleas’ assertion, is obvious.

So here’s the reality.  A decade of tax cutting and deregulation led us into the Great Depression, the worst economic collapse of the 20th century. [You might note that the following decades of high tax rates and robust regulation were free of these horrible events.]  And what happened most recently?  A decade of tax cuts and deregulation – the end game of three decades of this supply-side approach – led to the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression.  Significantly, the major deregulations of big finance, including the repeal of Glass-Steagall came at the end of Clinton’s term, less than a decade prior to the financial melt down.  Last Friday on his radio show, Thom Hartmann pointed out that prior to the regulations put in place in the 30′s, the U.S. had never gone for more than 15 years without a major financial collapse.  So this result should have been expected.

The extraordinary thing isn’t that right wingers lie.  The simple reality is that they can’t make their case without lying, because it has no merit.  The extraordinary thing is that their lies are so easily rooted out and refuted, in the era of free and easily accessible information, but so few people will take the required few minutes to go ahead and do it. Sadly, whenever the truth comes up against a cascade of lies, the liars have a significant tactical advantage

Shlaes’ presentation is just one more manifestation of the right wing ploy of denying reality.   Sadly, it works, because you really can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.

Tags: , , , , , , , Comments (34) | |

You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time

At least on certain issues.

I’m not inherently a great pessimist, but with few exceptions each passing month for over a decade now has seen my optimism whither, at least a little.  So I can’t help but see the manure-colored lining in this otherwise rosy, fluffy cloud.

Steve Benen reports that according to the new NBC/WSJ poll, Americans trust Democrats more than Republicans on domestic issues, sometimes by large margins.  Here is a graph.  (As always, click to embiggen.)

Graph 1   Who Do You Trust?

But the causes of my pessimism are four-fold.  First, as Benen goes on to note, the same polling reveals that in the popular mind “Republicans have an advantage on the (sic) reducing the deficit, ‘controlling’ government spending, and national defense.”  Well, there’s three reasons for pessimism right there.  A) Reducing the deficit is an issue of exactly zero urgency, and attacking it now will certainly cause economic hardship, especially for those at the bottom. Further, Republicans have been huge debt increasers for decades, while Dems have not.  B) We absolutely do not have a spending problem.  We absolutely do have a revenue problem, as graph 2 plainly indicates.  I think the Republicans have become convinced of their own lies.

Graph 2   Federal Gov Current Recpts by GDP

C) From FDR through LBJ to BHO, Dems have been every bit as war-mongerish as their Rep counterparts; BHO has continued his predecessors war initiatives almost seamlessly;  and 9/11 happened on W’s watch.  This just makes me want to cry.

But I have a bigger list.  Second, a look a graph 1 reveals some disturbing details.  A)  Joe BeerCan must not connect “Looking out for the middle class,” Medicare,” “Health Care,” “Medicare,’ or “Social Security” with “Economy” or the results for those categories would line up better.  B) Considering Paul Ryan and the never-ending series of Republican contrived cliffs, scoring Dems only marginally better than Repubs on the economy is, all by itself, cause for despair.  C) As is the close call on taxes.

Third, and I’ve already alluded to this, there is almost no daylight between the two parties on foreign policy issues.  Still I have to give a slight nod to the Dems, based on practicality, because: John Bolton.

And last, though I firmly believe to the bottom of my heart that the Dems are superior on absolutely every issue, problem and question that might rise, they still aren’t that damned good.  Case in point: the new head of the Michigan Democratic party is a venture capitalist.  As Bill Maher sagely put it, while the Democrats have moved to the right, the Republicans have moved to the insane asylum.  They demonstrate this anew, almost every single day

The lessons of history and even a casual observation of the current failures of European austerity show that progressive policies are the clear and present necessity.  But even if we had strong Dem majorities, we still have Reaganite B. Hoover Obama in the White House, and a genuine progressive movement in congress the exact size and shape of Bernie Sanders. 

As one of my college professors put it long ago:  Booze is the only answer.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (6) | |

Thus Spake the Rube

For the hundredth time the foreign-born Muslim commie Nazi extends an olive branch across the aisle, and for the hundredth time it’s dashed to the floor, stomped on and set ablaze – along with the latest spokes-liars trousers.   It became a conflagration that the infamous water-stop could not staunch.

Early in Marco Rubio’s alleged rebuttal to B. Hoover Obama’s latest exercise in political theater it became painfully obvious that his pants were on fire.  This was even before it became obvious that his diatribe was utterly incoherent.  Steve Benen explains.

By any sensible measure, Rubio’s entire pitch was incoherent gibberish. He thinks President Obama is hostile to free enterprise and wants to increase the deficit, neither of which makes any sense. Rubio thinks the housing crisis was caused by big government, which is simply idiotic. Rubio celebrates his family’s history of dependence on government social programs like student loans and Medicare, while articulating a policy agenda that guts government social programs like student loans and Medicare.
Forget ideology, subjectivity, and areas of opinion — the fact is Marco Rubio’s speech was filled with a series of claims with no meaningful connection to reality. The senator even thinks combating the climate crisis means asking government to “control the weather,” which is just genuinely dumb.

Part way through I started taking notes, and discovered an unappetizing platter of rewarmed left-overs [or more accurately: right-overs] of Romney’s failed presidential campaign, where lying and incoherence were the norm.  It was deja vu all over again. Viz:

Obama’s obsession with raising taxes
Solyndra [God help us - I am not making this up]
We should open Federal lands to energy exploration
Grow Energy industry [but not renewables]
Lower Corp tax rate [Highest in the world, don't cha know]
Incentivise school districts
Schools of choice
Solve the debt problem [As if BHO ignored it - or, more importantly - as if it were a real problem]
Obama created the debt with excessive spending  [my personal favorite]
Need a balanced budget amendment  [the ignorance - it burns, too]
Obama’s in favor of leaving Medicare just the way it is [though he clearly stated otherwise]
He also wants to unconstitutionally undermine 2nd amendment rights
The President’s devastating cuts to our military [Seriously -- WTH?!?]
Moral breakdown in society – need more faith
Economic liberty

That’s what I was able to capture as Rubio’s litany of [mostly] decades old Republican clap-trap spewed forth almost faster than I could record it.

One of the MSNBC commentators pointed out that this nonsense wasn’t directed to the American public, who I hope are beginning to see through the smoke screen, but to the hard-core right-wing base.  As such, it’s Rubio’s first gambit in his run for the 2016 presidential nomination.

I don’t know if I should laugh, cry, or drink myself into a stupor.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (14) | |

Paul Krugman, Angry Bear, and Jazzbumpa

Update: Noahpinion takes on the same in How to win arguments by pretending to be stupid.  The comments section offers other points of view.

Ron T. aka Jazzbumpa received an unusual thank you from Paul Krugman for this post on a Mish Shedlock post about debating PK.

Krugman recommended Beverly Mann  on January 15th this year as part of a  recommended reading post.

Other Angry Bear contributors gaining mention and recommendation by name in the recent past that immediately come to mind are Mike Kimel and Bruce Webb.

Despicable Me – Paul Krugman

Funny: Angry Bear finds some of the usual suspects explaining How to Debate Paul Krugman, and the answer appears to be this: invent a straw man who bears no resemblance at all to the economist/columnist of the same name, and ridicule that imaginary person. I have to say, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I could play the role of History’s Greatest Monster to so many people. Thank you for the honor!

Aside from the silliness of the exercise, this little exchange is another illustration of a point I’ve noticed before: the way hard-right commentators assume that the other side must be their mirror image. They insist that no government intervention is ever justified; so liberals must support any and all government interventions. They want smaller government, as a principle; liberals must want bigger government, never mind what for. They believe that deficits and printing money are always evil; liberals must be for deficits and money-printing under all circumstances.

An hour spent browsing this blog would quickly refute all of this, together with the bizarre charge that I never look at evidence; you may not agree with my conclusions, but I sure do post a lot of numbers. But obviously looking at what I actually write would just be too painful.

Anyway, thanks guys, you made my day.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (4) | |

How To Debate Paul Krugman

On Saturday Mish wrote a really awful article with those words in it’s title.

The article borrows these words and includes a quote from an even more awful article by Austrian school economist and author Detlev Schlichter.  Part of that quote is presented here.

What makes him [PK] so annoying is his unquestioning, reflexive and almost childlike enthusiasm for state intervention, even in the face of its obvious failure, and his apparent unwillingness to probe any deeper into the real causes of our present economic problems or to show any willingness to investigate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of his particular medicine.

I want to make something perfectly clear before we go any further.  It is fine to disagree with Krugman, or me, or the Pope, or anyone else, as long as you bring facts, data, and some basic skill in rational discourse.  What is not fine is misrepresenting someone’s position and then holding the misrepresentation up to ridicule.  That is both vile and stupid.

Back to the quote: does that sound anything like the Paul Krugman who puts his ideas out there for the world to see on a daily basis?  What I see in Krugman is thoughtful analysis, and deep probing into both the causes of our problems and the consequences of economic policy decisions.  You don’t have to agree with his assesments, but you cannot validly deny that he is making them.

When the opportunities smack me in the face like this, I put on my Krugman Truth Squad hat. Schlichter offers us a standard issue stale Austrian anti-Krugman diatribe. You have to wonder if he has ever bothered to read anything that Krugman has written.  His wordy, repetitive, rambling, semi-coherent, desperate-sounding article – which I cannot recommend highly enough – is an impressive exercise in partial-truths, distortions, make believe, and straw man stuffing.  He then hints that we should go back to the gold standard and totally unfettered free markets.

Schlichter lists Krugman’s alleged assumptions, condensed here:

1)   Recessions, depressions and crises are the result of the unhampered market. 
2)   The Great Depression was caused by uncontrolled markets.
3)   Recessions, depressions and crises are practically the result of one problem: a lack of aggregate demand.  .  .  .   It is the role of government to get people spending again. This is done by printing money and causing inflation so that people spend.
 4)   The Great Depression was solved by the government spending lots of money and the central bank printing lots of money.

Let’s pause here for a moment and set aside the redundancy.  I’m not sure points 1 and 2 represent PK’s view with any degree of accuracy.  Certainly they are gross oversimplifications and neglect other factors.  But if they are true, then point 3 can’t be.  Let’s set that aside, as well.  Points 3 and 4 are reasonably close to the truth, though if you read the original, point 3 runs off the rails as it continues. 

From there it only gets worse.

5)   This explains ALL economic problems.

So, according to Schlechter, Keynes taught, Krugman believes – and would have us believe – that loose money policies and causing inflation are the right policy measures not only for recessions, but for boom times, and periods of inflation, hyper-inflation, stag-flation, or any other problem you can think of.  Even I know enough about Keynes to call that out as false.

The redundency continues to pile up.  I’ll extract one more point. [#'s 6,7, and 8 are repetitions of #4 with various degrees of elaboration and snark.]

7)   If after many rounds of money printing and deficit spending, there is still a recession, then only one conclusion is permissible: There was obviously not enough money printing and deficit spending. We need more of it.

I don’t claim to know everything, but I’m not aware of any situation in recent history that has played out like this, so it looks like a Schlichterian fantasy.  In the post WW II era, the combination of loose money and fiscal expansion has generally kept recessions rather short, leading to V-shaped recoveries, and putting the brakes on too quickly has occasionally led to a double dip.  England has recently experienced an austerity-induced double dip recession.  In the current U. S. doldrums, Krugman tells us fiscal frugality has led to a slow and limping recovery.  This is credible since spending is flat and GDP growth is anemic. [Graph 1]

Graph 1, Current Expenditures and GDP (log scale)

Has any modern major economy had a recession persist after “many rounds of money printing and deficit spending”?  Even in the Great Depression things turned around pretty quickly once New Deal policies were implemented.  But, as PK also tells us, recessions brought on by a financial crisis are different from the typical post WW II recession.

Schlichter doesn’t let up. Though this statement [emphasis added], “Krugman is the one who should be made to explain his policy recommendations and who has to answer the criticism that policies like the ones he is recommending got us into this mess in the first place and that his policy ideas have been implemented for years to no effect, at least no positive effect.” is hard to beat for sheer negation of reality [and for channeling Ron Paul],  the real capper is this: “Krugman is practicing Keynesianism as a religion.”

It is because of statements like this that I lose patience with people who use words like “disingenuous.” You can supply your own alternative vocabulary   Check Krugman’s Op-Eds and blog posts, where he repeatedly demonstrates reality with graphs and tables, shows how austerity is failing right now with real-world examples, and admits it when he gets something wrong.  When is the last time you saw a Krugman-hater do that?

Mish, to his eternal discredit, says of this nonsense: ” Moreover, it appears to be 100% accurate.”

But, Mish continues, the real way to debate Krugman is demonstrated by Economist Hans Hermann-Hoppe in this one minute video.

This is genuinely awesome.   That an economist can be so thoroughly wrong – wrong in general and wrong in every particular – about what Keynesianism is and does, leaves me speechless, and that’s saying something.

OK – almost speechless.  Any child can see that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it.  So let’s forget the trivially unimportant technical details and ask simple-minded, allegedly probing questions that in this case are totally unrelated not only to the policies Keynes and Krugman propose, but to anything else in the real world, and then point and stare when these questions cannot be answered – by anyone, while your minions nod approvingly.

But would it work?  Mish concludes this way:

Krugman would respond with incomprehensible gibberish “for wonks only” as well as typical Keynesian nonsense about how paying people to dig holes and other people to fill them up would start a chain reaction of growth.

A child would see the answer was preposterous, but not a trained economist, politician, or brainwashed academic. Paul Krugman, keynesian economists in general, politicians wanting a free lunch, and most academics are all incurable.

Nonetheless, Hans Hermann-Hoppe’s answer is indeed the correct one. By asking questions a child will understand, some non-brainwashed people will see Keynesian and Monetary stimulus for what they really are: economic stupidity.

In a follow up article [with a 5 point list that includes 2 naked assertion and 3 irrelevancies {seriously - Zimbabwe?!?}] Mish makes it clear that in his view monetary and fiscal stimulus are BOTH stupid.   So, at this point it looks as if he – with his straw man army and blatant intellectual nihilism -  and I have devolved into a schoolyard game of calling each other stupid.

But I’m quite sure Mish is not stupid, and I’m fairly certain I’m not either.  The real questions are these: who is paying attention to reality, whose policies make things better or worse in a given situation [absolutism, anyone?] and whose concepts have had some predictive power over the last several years.  [Here's a hint: it's not the Austerians.]

So, maybe a better way to phrase it is, “Who is practicing their economics as a religion?”

Tags: , , , , Comments (46) | |

Another look at Spending and Revenues

This is more or less relevant to Beverly’s post from earlier today.

How many times have you heard Boehner, McConnell, Ryan or one of the legion of right-wing talking heads say, “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem?”  I refuted that lie repeatedly in this AB post and at the included links.   But this is one of those zombie ideas that simply will not stay in the grave.  

Therefore, some prominent voices have found it necessary to sing out again against the lie. I will add my humble quavery baritone to the chorus.

Here in Graph 1 is Kevin Drum demonstrating how Real Government Expenditures per Capita have changed under the last three presidents.

What we have isn’t a spending problem. That’s under control. What we have is a problem with Republicans not wanting to pay the bills they themselves were largely responsible for running up.

 Graph 1, Real Government Expenditures per Capita

By using real [inflation adjusted] and per capita numbers, Drum has introduced a couple of denominators.  Real expenses per cap is a rational way to display the data, but not the only way. So lest someone cry out about that ol’ devil denominator, let’s have a different look.

Via Paul Krugman we get Graph 2 and Graph 3, from FRED, showing total Government expenditures and Federal Government expenditures, respectively, on log scales.

Graph 2. Government Total Expenditures
Graph 3, Federal Government Total Expenditures

Yes, you can argue that spending was growing too fast under Bush, although it’s funny how few deficit scolds saw fit to mention that at the time. Or you can say that you just want less spending, although as always people who say this tend to be short on specifics. But the narrative that says that spending has surged under Obama is just wrong – what we’ve actually seen is a slowdown at exactly the time when, for macroeconomic reasons, we should have been spending more.

Remember, a log scale represents constant growth as a straight line, and zero growth as a horizontal line.  So, in pure dollar numbers, spending hasn’t quite declined, but it has stagnated to almost zero growth.  Hence Drum’s decline in inflation adjusted, per capita terms.

In Graph 4, we get one more longer range look, using Krugman’s data series, this time on a linear scale.  Also presented is the difference between the two, which is the amount of spending by state and local governments.

 Graph 4, Government Spending at Different Levels

 The red line is total spending at all levels of governemnt, the blue line is federal only, and the green line is the difference, state and local spending.  Note that the green line flattens early in the recession

To bring things full circle, Graph 5 shows Federal Government current receipts.  Look at this and tell me we don’t have a revenue problem.

Graph 5, Federal Government Current Receipts

To drive this point home, Graph 6 shows Federal Receipts as a fraction of GDP.  The purpose of the ratio is to provide context, using GDP as a proxy for the size of the economy.

Graph 6, Federal Receipts as a fraction of GDP

As you can see, revenues/GDP are in a historically low range.

Conclusions:
- Federal spending is flat in nominal dollar terms.
- Federal spending is declining when adjusted for inflation and population growth.
- Federal revenues are far below trend lines based on any historical reference you chose.
- Federal revenues as a fraction of GDP are historically low.
- The Republican claim that we have a spending problem not a revenue problem is simply a lie, on both counts.
- Disproportional spending growth has only occurred under two presidents: Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. 

The simple fact is we have a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

Why do Republicans lie?

The truth is hostile to their agenda.  PK Explains.

Cross posted at Retirement Blues

Tags: , , , , , Comments (6) | |

Hagel for Defense Secretary

I’m actually agnostic on this choice.  The always excellent Charles Pierce makes a good case for Hagel, but why should Obama go for any Republican?  This just continues to promote the canard that Republicans are somehow stronger or more capable on defense issues than Democrats.

The irony here is that the greatest opposition is coming from Republicans, some of whom have gone so far as to call him an anti-Semite*  because he has spoken openly and honestly about the excessive influence the pro-Israel lobby has on American foreign policy.   When we consider the pros and cons of any individual for any position, we ought to do it on the basis of real qualifications and real disqualifications, not make-believe nonsense put forward by neocons and the cadre of rabid right-wingers whose policies have done such great and possibly irreparable damage to the world in this century.
 
I rarely agree with Mish on anything political, and to find myself agreeing in principle with him when he’s agreeing in principle with Patrick Buchanan has my stomach turning and my head spinning. 

Vertigo, nausea and angular momentum aside, this appointment is the president’s decision, and I want to see the debate procede along substantive rather than ideological, illogical or untruthful  lines.   And I most particularly don’t want to see him get Riced.

Now, where do I pick up my pony?

__________________________

* On 1/07 I heard Eliot Abrams do exactly that in an NPR interview.  Abrams was an Iran-Contra cohort of Paul Wolfowitz and Oliver North.

Tags: , Comments (5) | |

An Editorial on Robert Bork and his Legacy

On Wednesday, December 19, 2012 Robert Heron Bork died at age 85I did not mourn.

Bork first became infamous in 1973 for his role in the “Saturday night massacre” when as Solicitor General, the number three position in the Justice Department, he carried out, under President Nixon’s orders, the firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.  Bork inherited this task when both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned in protest.  This much is well known.  What sometimes gets left out of the discussion, though, is that due to the manner in which Cox’s position was created and defined, he could not be removed except for cause.  Doing a good job of tracking down evidence relevant to the case he was pursuing does not qualify as cause.  This was a defining moment in Bork’s career, in which he conveniently chose power over principle.

Most recently he was the senior judicial adviser to Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, but he is best known for being rejected as a Supreme Court justice when nominated for that position in 1987 by Ronald Reagan.  After his nomination was defeated by a 58-42 vote in the Senate, his name was verberized into a neologism that was [and occasionally still is] used almost exclusively in the passive voice.

To be “borked,” as his supporters would have it, is to be subjected to unfair criticisms based on distortions of your words, actions, and beliefs.  But his radically reactionary views on equal protection and sex discrimination were typical of his extreme and perverse positions. The mere fact that he was able to speak out in favor of a poll tax speaks volumes.  In reality, the borking of Bork consisted of subjecting him to valid criticism based on the precise meanings of his words, actions and beliefs.  Jeffrey Toobin explains.

Bork was “borked” simply by being confronted with his own views—which would have undone many of the great constitutional landmarks in recent American history. As Senator Edward Kennedy put it in a famous speech on the Senate floor, “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, [and] writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government.”

Was Kennedy too harsh? He was not—as Bork himself demonstrated in the series of intemperate books he wrote after losing the Supreme Court fight and quitting the bench, in 1987. The titles alone were revealing: ”The Tempting of America,” “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline,” and “Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges.” One of his last books may have summed up his views best. Thanks in part to decisions of the Supreme Court—decisions that, for the most part, Bork abhorred—the United States became a more tolerant and inclusive place, with greater freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination than any society in history. Bork called the book, accurately, “A Country I Do Not Recognize.”

Indeed, Bork’s words and actions were consistently anti-gay, anti-female, anti-minority, always favoring government intrusion over citizen’s rights, businesses over people, big business over small, and corporations over government.  His supporters would argue that these conclusions are based on principled positions, and that the outcomes, however repugnant to idealists, are therefore legitimate.  I argue instead that policies that consistently result in the contraction rather than the expansion of basic human rights, and that continually disadvantage definable target groups are corrupt at their core, and that the negative results are inherent and predictable.

After his defeat, Robert Bork gradually faded away from the public consciousness.  I can tell you, in the intervening 25 years, I gave him virtually no thought at all.

But Bork had enormous, possibly even dominant influence on the modern interpretation of anti-trust law, perhaps single-handedly redefining the scope and purpose of anti-trust legislation.  Basically, Bork was pro-efficiency and anti-anti-trust.  He had swallowed whole the bait-bucket of Chicago-economic-school ideas of market efficiency, and built the entire framework of his pro-trust belief system on that invalid foundation.

It seems fair to say that it is in some part because of Bork’s influence that we now have trans-national mega-corporations with huge oligopolies and near-monopolies.  These corporations have no inherent loyalty to anyone nor anything.  In my view, the oligarchs that run them do not even have a general sense of loyalty to stock-holders, let alone the broader universe of stake-holders, who mainly exist to be exploited.

Efficiency, in and of itself is a good thing.  But it cannot be achieved in a vacuum – frequently there are externalities that are largely negative.  For one thing, the efficiencies are mainly internalized and do not necessarily represent a more broadly efficient society.  Second, as a market gets concentrated, competition decreases and the pressure to improve, or even maintain status-quo efficiency slowly erodes.  This ultimately leads to a situation where big, lumbering and inefficient but extremely powerful entities control the economic and political landscape.  Yes, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Insurance, Big Finance, I am looking at you.

Perhaps worse, though, is the power asymmetry that results from size and influence.  Suppliers, customers, and the public at large are overwhelmed by the sheer might of these institutions, leading to even greater concentrations of power and wealth.

The end game is some version of economic collapse.  It happened in the 1930′s, and – due largely to neoclassical Chicago-style economic thinking that has over the last 40 years willfully unlearned the lessons of that time – it happened again in 2008.

Most of the time, evil doesn’t manifest as some cackling cartoon villain, mad-man on a murderous rampage, or even an unjust war waged on false pretenses.  It results instead, in a far more banal but far-reaching way, from the highly refined ideas of men like Robert Bork who value abstract concepts such as efficiency over the effects the programs they institute have on the lives of real human beings.

Tags: , , , , , Comments (15) | |

One Nation, Divisible

We are a country not just divided, but fragmented along axes of race, age, religion, economic status and geography.  There are now 15 States where citizens have filed petitions to secede from the Union.  “These include Louisiana (which led the charge), the Republic of Texas, Kentucky, Colorado, New Jersey, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Oregon.”  I don’t know which is number 15, but I’m gong to guess Oklahoma. 

I’m not going to get flip about it.  While these petitions have virtually no chance of achieving anything, it’s important to remember two things:

1)  You never hear anything like this when Republicans win.
2)  All but 4 of these states represent the (since 1965) solid Republican South.

Another geographic dimension is urban vs rural.  When I do get flip, I say Obama won everywhere that people outnumber cattle, deer, goats or alligators.  This comes distressingly close to being the truth.  Look at the electoral map of just about any State.  I like to consider Ohio, since it is my home State and in many ways represents the U.S. in miniature.  But pick a State at random [or Texas in particular] and you’ll probably see the same scenario.   The Ohio electoral map shows that Obama carried 16 of Ohio’s 88 counties.  Half of these are strung along the Lake Erie shore, four more are contiguous in the densely populated north-east corner, and the other four contain Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati and Athens.

I’m not ambitious enough to undertake the study, but I’ll hypothesize that Obama’s vote percentage in each county is directly proportional to the total population – and this in a State where the counties don’t vary much in physical size.  Consider that Lucas Co. [essentially my home town, Toledo] with 198,000 votes cast went for Obama by 64 to 34%, while Mercer Co. along the IN border with 21,000 votes cast went for Romney by 77 to 22%.  You can find these kinds of results all over the country.

Another divide is along education level.  Among the 15 States with the best public school systems, Obama carried 13, while among the 15 States with the worst public school systems, Romney carried 12.  I see this as a big component in the recent Republican war on education.  One thing you develop as a result of good education is a set of critical thinking skills, which then give you the ability to see through nonsense peddlers like Rush, Trump, and the whole Fox roster.

All of this tends to make me pessimistic about our nations future.  But I see rays of hope amidst the great divide.  Even in Georgia, which went 53 to 45% for Romney, you find Obama winning by huge margins in Atlanta, Macon, Augusta, Columbus, Savannah, and Albany.

Plus, another thing is happening that you have to see a country-wide county level electoral map to notice.

There is a blue streak that starts along the Mississippi river valley where Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi converge and runs almost continuously through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas to join with the blue States along the coast.

I call it the band of sanity running through the South, and it might just represent an opportunity for progressives to build on going forward.

Tags: , , Comments (40) | |