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:

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.