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

It doesn’t matter what you think.

It isn’t that no one cares what you think, they probably don’t, it is that what you think doesn’t really matter. Chances are that what you think, you didn’t; didn’t think that is. Even if you did, it doesn’t matter because facts are facts, and facts don’t care. Facts just are. Feel free to think, to opine, about the unknown, to believe what you want, but facts are reality and can be known. Facts couldn’t care less what you learned at mother’s, or anyone else’s, knee; what you learned in school; what you heard on Fox News, … . Facts are facts.

Opinions are not the same as facts. Opinions, in fact, have nothing to do with the facts. Opinions are just something, like a preference, that each of us is entitled to. This may help explain our fondness for our own opinions. Opinions, at best, are only worth the thought put into them. Opinions based on opinions, and/or preconceived notions, are worthless, or even less. Opinions based on knowledge and best thinking are known as considered opinions, Their worth is determined by the quality of the information/knowledge considered, and by the quality of the thinking of whoever is doing the thinking.

Believe is something one chooses to do for whatever reason. If they have good reason to believe something it probably means that they have thought about it and came to a conclusion, If they just believe something, it probably doesn’t mean anything.

If one must think, when to do so is of utmost importance. Always think before acting; because it may be too late after. In other words, don’t fall into that old learn from experience trap. The first law of survival is survive. If one doesn’t survive, they can’t learn anything. Even if one does survive, thinking does not a good band-aid make. Neither the FBI, nor the Judge, will accept post-factum thinking as an excuse.

Switch to Disqus Comment system???

AB currently uses a WordPress comment system which has been problematic. As a result, I have been researching other plug-in systems when readers have asked about functionality not available in WP.

The Disqus system seems to have the functionality that was requested (may be dependent upon web browser being used). An ad-free version can also be purchased for a yearly fee. Does anyone have experience with Disqus (Washington Monthly uses Disqus)? If you do and have an opinion of Disqus, please send me an e-mail: cdansplace2@aol.com.

Briefly, Disqus Commenter functions include:

– Improved acceptance and formatting of cut and paste material including insertion of gifs, jpeg, and even videos

– Nested comments to the author in a thread and thread of other comments between commenters on the thread for reading convenience.

– Automatic identification of sender of comment and receiver of the comment.

– Bolding, italicizing, striking, underlining, linking, coding, quoting, etc. functionality.

– Editing of comments after publication for a set period of time.

– Login by name and email addy.

Let’s take a big, second bite at the mass testing apple

We made many mistakes in our response to the coronavirus over the past year.  One of the most critical was our failure to massively expand our capacity to produce coronavirus tests and masks and other PPE.  As many economists including Paul Romer noted last spring, mass testing and wide distribution of high quality masks would probably have allowed us to crush the virus and return to something close to normal life even in the absence of a vaccine.  Given that it was far from clear when or even if an effective vaccine would arrive, a large investment in mass testing and PPE production seemed like a no-brainer, but we didn’t do it.  This was one of the most serious and easily avoidable errors in our covid response. 

But what about now?  President Biden asked for $50 billion in his American Recovery Act to expand rapid testing, to help schools reopen.  This investment is critical, although the rationale is much too limited.  There is a real chance that the coronavirus will evolve in a way that lets it escape the current vaccines.  I don’t know how likely this is.  But even a small risk of viral escape would justify a large investment in testing and PPE production to let us keep a new variant of the virus under control while new vaccines are developed. 

Congressional Democrats should make this a high priority in the covid package they are working on.  A major investment in vaccine development and creation of accelerated vaccine testing procedures is also critical.  A protracted outbreak of a new covid strain will be a disaster for the country – a health disaster first, then an economic disaster, and finally a political disaster when Democrats get blamed for the never-ending hardships.

(I looked for information on the status of the legislation but didn’t find anything on point.  Anyone know of something?)

Economic insecurity, redux

Several comments on my last post on the economic difficulties of the people who attacked the Capitol took aim at their characters in one way or another.

I certainly do not want to defend the Capitol invaders in any way.  I think they should be vigorously prosecuted.  However, it is critically important to step back from the violent horror of the assault and think strategically about how we can use public policy to reduce the risk of political violence and democratic failure.  And that means thinking about conditions that influence people, not simply focusing on their character defects (they’re stupid, they’re selfish, they’re racist, etc.).  Whatever character flaws the insurrectionists have, they or others like them will have the same flaws next year, and the year after that, and on and on.  The crooked timber of humanity is . . . crooked.  Politics is not a morality play.

This is the reason that we should hope that economic factors played an important role in fostering the discontent that led to the election of Trump and eventually to the attack on Congress.  Researchers and journalists should actively look for economic causes.  It is not about professional bragging rights for economists.  It’s about looking for solutions.  We have some ideas about how to cure problems like economic insecurity and downward mobility.  We have, I think, fewer politically viable ideas about how to cure anxiety over demographic change or outright racism.  (I would be happy to be wrong about this.  And my point is not that we have no ideas about how to reduce prejudice.  We do.  For example, promoting interracial contact may lessen prejudice and anxiety.  But many policies to promote interracial contact, such as integrating schools, would be exceedingly difficult to pass into law and implement on a large scale, and any effort to do so might provoke a backlash that hands control of the government to Republicans.  Politics is the art of the possible.)

Take the article I quoted from in my earlier post.  Many people who stormed the Capitol have had trouble with debts, taxes, and bankruptcy.  There are policies we can adopt that might make their lives go better.  One obvious idea suggested by the article is to make it easier to declare personal bankruptcy.  We could implement a wage insurance program.  We could try to foster regional economic development.  We could limit the cost of college.  We could raise the minimum wage or try wage subsidies.  We can make Obamacare more generous.  We can pay child allowances.

These policies might or might not quell the anger, fear, resentment, and polarization that contributed to the insurrection on January 6.  They might or might not preserve our democracy.  We are skating in front of the breaking ice, and there are no magic bullets.  But at least they are concrete policies that could plausibly get passed through Congress. 

This is why the article quoted in the earlier post was interesting to me.

Status of Angry Bear

Strategy New Media Inc is our new host and IT fix-it company. MEV, our previous host, had ceased supporting WordPress platforms. so a move was mandatory. As of last night, Strategy is migrating AB to a new server, so as some have experienced difficulties in commenting I apologize. I have alerted Strategy to these glitches.

Score one for the economic insecurity theory of Trump . . .

From the WAPO:

Despite her outward signs of success, Ryan had struggled financially for years. She was still paying off a $37,000 lien for unpaid federal taxes when she was arrested. She’d nearly lost her home to foreclosure before that. She filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and faced another IRS tax lien in 2010.

Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories.

The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as that of the American public, The Post found. A quarter of them had been sued for money owed to a creditor. And 1 in 5 of them faced losing their home at one point, according to court filings.

. . .

“I think what you’re finding is more than just economic insecurity but a deep-seated feeling of precarity about their personal situation,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a political science professor who helps run the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab at American University, reacting to The Post’s findings. “And that precarity — combined with a sense of betrayal or anger that someone is taking something away — mobilized a lot of people that day.”

When Trump was elected in 2016 there was a big debate over whether victory reflected economic or cultural factors. A lot of the initial research downplayed the influence of economic factors, although subsequent research shows a more complicated picture. This article shows how difficult economic and social factors are to disentangle . . .

Three cheers for child benefits!

Let’s discuss something worth getting really excited about, the Biden/Romney child tax credit/child allowance proposals.  These proposals would make life much better for poor children and their parents.  A lot better.  Neither proposal goes as far as I would like, but they would be a real improvement and could be made more generous over time.

I will briefly describe the proposals and then discuss the political changes that may have paved the way for a major shift in social policy.

What the proposals do

To see just how exciting these proposals are, it helps to remember what is wrong with our current system of support for families with children, which is centered on a partly refundable Child Tax Credit (actually, two credits) and the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Matt Bruenig emphasizes these difficulties with the current system:

  • Our Child Tax Credit is not fully refundable, which means that children in the poorest households do not benefit from it.  
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit is only available to families with significant labor market income.  This again excludes the poorest households.
  • The current child tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit are paid to families once a year, when they file their taxes.  This makes it hard for families to budget.
  • With the EITC, many eligible families (around 22%) do not apply, presumably because of the complex eligibility rules.  It is likely that the same is true for the child tax credit.

The Biden and Romney proposals make full payments available to families without any labor market income.  They would reduce the number of children living in poverty by a third, and reduce deep child poverty by 50%.  They also pay families every month.  For further discussion of the proposals see this from Hammond and Orr or this by Bruenig.

The politics of child payments

Part of the reason these proposals are so exciting is that they reflect a sea change in how we think about poverty, work, government.  The poorest families were excluded from the CTC and EITC intentionally.  The purpose was (depending on your point of view) to create incentives for poor people to work, to punish the non-working poor, to avoid giving the undeserving poor an incentive to have children, and, of course, to do all these things to poor Black people, especially women.  A secondary factor in the structure of the current system was the tendency to run cash benefits through the tax code, to disguise them as tax cuts rather than just admitting they are benefits.  These ideas and impulses have shaped our thinking and limited our options for decades, yet today we may be ready to send monthly checks to poor parents – often single mothers – who do not work. 

Why might we be ready to give modest amounts of unconditional cash to poor families today, assuming we are?  What changed?  I can only guess, but here are some ideas.

Bipartisanship

Dear Judy,

I just want to let you know that I’m here for you on your problem with bipartisanship, and to apologize for not being there for you when you were struggling so with your problem with her emails.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, to date: Partisans were a subspecies of humans found mostly in the forests of middle-europe during the mid-twentieth century. I did use were, but, to be honest, it isn’t known for certain whether or not they are extinct. Skeletal remains of both male and female adults, and partial skeletal remains of what are thought to be teenagers, are still being found today. Here’s the thing, breeding pairs of partisans were known as bipartisans. Isn’t that exciting? There is no historical record, at least none that I could find on Google, of how and where they reared their young. So, this remains an unknown at this time.

I hope this helps. Again, my apologies for letting you down on the her emails thing.

Sincerely yours,

A. Viewer