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

US life expectancy flat for third year

US life expectancy flat for third year

Life expectancy in the United States has stalled for three straight years, the government announced Wednesday.

A child born last year can expect to make it to 78 years and 9 1/2 months — the same prediction made for the previous two years.

In most of the years since World War II, life expectancy in the U.S. has inched up —- thanks largely to medical advances, public health campaigns and better nutrition and education. The last time it was stuck for three years was in the mid-1980s.

What does this mean for the future solvency of Social Security? Beats the crap out of me. But it sure casts doubt on all those who preach “demography is destiny” and “we are all living longer so work until you are 70”.

On a more mathy note small changes in input into Social Security models can have amazing effects on output, particularly over 75 year actuarial projections. Tweak some mortality and immigration assumptions and results change dramatically. We don’t even have to go the MJ.ABW. Though More Jobs. At Better Wages would itself have some outsized effects.

ISIS: Rogue State or Organized Crime Gang/Mafia

The West has been at ‘war’ with the Mafia and other organized crime gangs for over a century now. And nobody really thinks there will be some final ‘victory’. On the other hand the Mafia is at one of its lowest ebbs in both the United States and Italy. And who among us really remembers the days when Baader-Meinhoff terrorized Germany or the Red Brigades Italy. Or the Manson Family southern California – ooops, that is everybody because they made books and movies about it and the primary victim was a pregnant movie star. But all of which makes the point – horrible people have been doing horrible things to more or less innocent peoples since forever. And there is nothing that ISIS did in Paris that exceeds what the Manson Family did in 1969 or Al Capone’s guys in the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. It was all brutal and evil and fully justified the full application of the force of the State to suppress it, up to and including deadly force as necessary. But only as necessary. Al Capone died in prison and Chuck Manson will too, there was no need to carpet bomb Chicago or the California desert.

ISIS are not world history’s worst monsters. On the other hand they are pretty damn monstrous. On balance are they worse than the worst branches of the Mafia over its several century history? I don’t know, on the other hand I am not going to pre-judge the State’s attempt to ruthlessly crush them. Now lots of mockery has been expended on the notion that ‘terrorism’ can be addressed as a criminal justice matter rather than some matter of existential war of civilizations. But calling these matters ‘crimes’ rather than ‘war’ is important. In WWII we declared war on Japan and Germany declared war on the U.S. and this war was considered on both sides a war of country vs. country and people vs. people with the result of really terrible acts perpetrated by both sides against an amorphous enemy. In the context of total war firebombing Tokyo and Dresden were considered simple acts of war. And if anyone objected the answers were easy: “Coventry”, “Pearl Harbour”, “The Bataan Death March”.

But we don’t need to adopt the model of ‘Total War’. ISIS is not Imperial Japan or Nazi Germany. On the other hand it is a little harder target than the Detroit Purple Gang of the 20s and 30s or the Gambino Family of the 70s and 80s. All of which means that we need to calibrate our violence to the actual threat. We can take the War to ISIS without taking it to the entire Islamic World. Just as taking the War to the Mafia didn’t require carpet bombing every Sons of Columbus Hall and blowing up the Vatican. In both cases you need to keep focus on the Bad Guys. And regard collateral damage as a tragedy and not as we too often did in World War Two as a payback.

Maybe the Italians will never extirpate every trace of the Mafia from Sicily. In fact I will bet big money that not. And I predict that 100 years from now, and despite all the efforts of Batman, er I mean the NYPD Gang Squad, there will still be organized crime in Gotham/The Big Apple. Even though there will be episodes of Good Guys shooting down Bad Guys. And Bad Guys killing Innocent Civilians. And so too for ISIS. We can never defeat the underlying forces that lead to criminality. Which doesn’t mean we can’t cheer the day that Seal Team Six put bullets in Osama bin Ladin’s head or the day, hopefully soon, when a Hellfire Missile takes out the top leadership of ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh. But Christ Almighty can we keep the fire bombings and nuclear attacks in our back pocket? Taking out criminal leaders of criminal regimes while understanding that not every person under the power of that regime is a legitimate target is not some wimpy response, some lightweight attempt to ignore the fact that “we are at war” and not busting people for jay-walking. But there is a middle way that has us targeting the actual bad guys as criminal thugs who may require lethal justice. Without carpet bombing Palermo or the Bronx.

Shorter Mitch McConnell: “Zero Social Security COLA Too Generous”

Way to rally the base Turtle Neck!

NY Times: No Social Security Raises Even if Medicare Soars

WASHINGTON — The 60 million people on Social Security will not receive any cost-of-living increase in their benefits in 2016, the government said Thursday, but because of a quirk in federal law, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries could have record increases in their premiums unless Congress intervenes.

CNN: Sources: McConnell floats entitlement changes in high-stakes fiscal talks

McConnell is seeking a reduction in cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security recipients and new restrictions on Medicare, including limiting benefits to the rich and raising the eligibility age, several sources said.

Now it is true that Social Security policy geeks like me and maybe some other readers/contributors to Angry Bear can have an informed discussion on the pro’s and con’s of CPI-U vs CPI-W vs CPI-E vs Chained CPI-W and their respective effects on Social Security “actuarial imbalance” and “unfunded liability over the infinite future horizon”. God knows I am up for that discussion any time and feel free to weigh in on the comment thread.

But you have to be pretty politically brain dead to propose holding the Debt Limit hostage to demands for COLA reductions in the same damn week that SSA announced that COLA would be zero for 2016. Boy that should rally seniors to the polls to vote Republican next year.

Homo Oeconomicus vs Homo Socialis: The Anthropology of Neo-Classical Econ

I have been working (in my head) on a wonkish, fully cited, post on the fundamental fallacy embedded at the basis of neo-classical econ. But I am still engaged on reading the ur-texts (hint Karl Polanyi and a revisit to E.P. Thompson) so instead will just throw out my thesis and let the thoughtful critics (and jackals) gnaw on it.

It is simple really. If you ignore the complexities. Neo-Classical Economics following Adam Smith, Ricardo and Malthus assumes that Man is a free actor, autonomous and engaged in transparent market actions ultimately derived from a barter economy. As such his freedom is only (or should be) constrained only by freely entered contractual obligations, which obligations ultimately comprise society held large. As such we hear talk about the ‘social contract’ which restrains us collectively from a previous existence of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’. Moreover this free man is motivated by a desire to maximize his own self-interest, which desire is only mediated by those contractual obligations, but which is itself virtuous. Hence such works as motivate the American version of this which include Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” and Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

A lot follows upon adoption of this view as Man as “Home Oeconomicus” including the validity of the so-called Iron Law of Wages and critiques of the Modern Welfare State and even Benthamite Utilitarianism (like I said I am doing some reading). But a lot falls apart if you reject the idea that primitive society was ever really based on barter and maximizing self-interest by free and autonomous actors. If instead you adopt the proposition that Man has always been a social animal and more intent on maximizing approbation by others in the family, clan, tribe, Executive Suite, Ski Slope and Country Club than actual accumulation and consumption then whole quarters of the foundation underlying Neo-Classical Econ fail and the superstructure crumbles.

And yes this is a pretty far cry from the kind of stuff Ed and Steve have been publishing here recently. “Unleash the Hyenas!”

Target Obama: Cantor and Boehner Collateral Damage

I don’t know what to say here. Me I am on the other side of the same movement, in the US I am “feeling the Bern” as a Sanders guy and as an observer on the UK side chanting “Jez We Can!” for Jeremy Corbyn. That is I am totally down for a Renaissance of the New Deal and Old Labour. But I never expected that the post-Reagan consensus that come what may we have to massage the feelings of Wall Street bankers would come unstuck. By an all out assault from the Right.

The Center is on siege. At least as the Center is defined in Beltway terms. Populism is on the Move. Which isn’t always a good thing. Because Populism as it manifested from 1898 to 1932 and was pushed back by Imperialism/Fascism unleashed all too much.

Hyperbole? Yeah I do that. Hook for an Open Thread? I do that too. Take it from here.

Libertarianism Simplified: the Three Proper Powers of Government

In your basic Austrian style Libertarianism Government only has three proper functions: External Defense, Internal Policing, and Enforcement of Contracts.

Or we could simplify all that as: Protection of Private Property, Protection of Private Property, and Protection of Private Property.

It really is that simple, at least once you define private beliefs and personal freedom as property. And property does mean “pertaining to me, my own”. A neat circle.

“Middle English propre proper, own, from Anglo-French, from Latin proprius own”

“Amour propre” French for “love of self”

CBO Aug 7, 2015: Monthly Budget Review for July

Monthly Budget Review for July 2015
Bolding mine:

The federal government’s budget deficit amounted to $463 billion for the first 10 months of fiscal year 2015, CBO estimates. That deficit was $2 billion larger than the one recorded during the same period last year. If not for shifts in the timing of certain payments (which otherwise would have fallen on a weekend), the deficit for the 10-month period would have declined by $41 billion. On the basis of the government’s revenues and spending so far this fiscal year, CBO expects that the annual deficit will total about $425 billion, which would be less than the $486 billion that the agency projected in March. CBO will publish new multiyear budget projections later in August.

Hmm. $61 billion improvement over four months. Pretty significant however you slice it. And maybe puts some context on 75 year projections put out either by SSA or CBO.

Republican Debate After Report; Because You Can’t Have a Post-mortem if Nobody Dies

Well I didn’t watch the debate (no TV right now) but I did follow two live-blogs, one from the NYT and the Guardian, and two Twitter feeds from Digby and TBogg as well as periodic check ins on news sites so got the overall reaction. My conclusion? Little to no winnowing of the field, at least from the Grownup Table.

Consensus seems to be that Carly earned a promotion from the Kid’s Table while Jindal, Santorum, Graham and Perry got a ‘meh’ and Gilmore and Pataki got a sub voce “who invited those guys?”.

But who makes room for Carly at the Grownup Table? My take is that Trump, Walker and Bush all lost something but more like a dip than a dive. That is I would not be surprised if all stayed at or above 10% with Trump probably above 15%. On the other hand everyone else seemed to do enough to maintain their own respective niches. So who gets kicked off the island to make room for Ms. Fiorina? My guess is Chris Christie. But maybe that is because I despise the guy and he has a main platform item of cutting Social Security.

Anyone else have thoughts here? I really expected some flame-outs and a possibility of only seven or so survivors from the main even and one or two from the JV warmup. But maybe we do have 11 or 12 still clinging to life.

Hiroshima and the Elided Moral Question

Today is the 70th anniversary of the first deployment of a nuclear weapon against humans. Something that was followed three days later by the second and so far last such deployment. Which raises any number of moral questions. One is there something particularly immoral about nuclear warfare that does not apply to other methods, for example fire bombing of Tokyo and Dresden with conventional weapons? But rather than starting the debate from that perspective there seems to be an insistence that the use of the atomic bomb was entirely unnecessary and cruel which in turn rests on the assertion that Japan was defeated, knew it, and was prepared to surrender. But were they? And did the allies know that? If not the moral calculus starts from a totally different spot. My own position is that Hiroshima was necessary but that Nagasaki was a war crime, that the former served to save millions of lives on net while the latter was the result of cynical and cruel calculation and all about post-war positioning. Neither conclusion stemming from a starting point that has nuclear weapons being a moral evil in and of themselves. Instead the moral question then and now was whether dropping the first bomb ended the war or not. To me those who see Hiroshima as an act of evil have one challenge: show that it was more evil than best information alternatives. Until that is settled all else is hand waving.

I start from the perspective that War is a War Crime. That you can be forced into a Just War but you can never wage a Just War. As a popular poster said in my youth during the hottest stages of the Vietnam War “War is not Healthy for Little Girls. And Other Living Things.” A slightly different wording here:
War is not Healthy
Was World War II avoidable? If not the moral calculus involves bring the war to as just an end as possible while killing the fewest little girls. Did Hiroshima meet that test?