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June 12, 2011


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This fits right in with some musings I've had this am on the impenetrability of the elite consensus (of which Friedman is usually a good example), and how it's been totally unaffected by the Bush policy failures, the 2008 election, the increasing radicalization of the GOP, or the economic crisis. The consensus goes something like this: (1) Taxes are bad and should never be raised, and taxes on the rich are especially bad and should always be lowered; the fact that the economy has yet to improve shows taxes (particularly on the rich) are still too high. (2) Since taxes are so bad, entitlement programs are unaffordable (as well as inefficient) and should be privatized or eliminated. (3) Keynesian economics is silly pie-in-the-sky thinking, can never work, and would lead to ruinous inflation, so should be avoided. (4) Possible future inflation is much, much worse than current high unemployment, and so the Federal Reserve should always prioritize fighting inflation. (5) The causes of high unemployment are really structural anyway, and so we need to just accept 9-10% unemployment as the new normal. (6) Since the world is such a dangerous place, we need to maintain an enormous military and be prepared to use it frequently. (7) We need to accept erosions of civil liberties in the service of the wars on terrorism and drugs; didn't you hear me tell you how dangerous the world is? (8) Senatorial prerogatives are part of the Constitution and thus must be respected and cannot be changed, regardless of how they are used. (9) Climate change and the limits of oil supplies are myths, believed only by people who want to destroy the American economy and way of life. (10) Republicans understand all of this much better than Democrats do, so they should always be supported, and "bipartisanship," which really means Democrats acquiescing to Republicans, should always be encouraged. (11) People who don't understand all of this are just silly "unserious" fools or DFHs, and their credentials and the merits of their arguments are irrelevant.

In fairness to our elites, the elites of many countries seem to subscribe to similar philosophies, especially in the economic realm. What's really discouraging is that nothing seems to penetrate the elite hive mind: not facts, not events, not policy disasters, not well-reasoned arguments from Nobel Prize winners, nothing.

Sorry I've been so depressing lately, but I am really, really worried. I think the immediate issue that has me the most concerned is the GOP's apparent willingness to risk a debt default. That should simply be unthinkable, and policy and media elites should be calling them out loud and clear, and letting them and the public know this kind of talk is grotesquely irresponsible. Some have, I know, but for the most part the GOP doesn't seem to be feeling much pressure to back down; there seems to be a trend to treat this as partisan-politics-as-usual, which it absolutely is not.

low-tech cyclist

SC - along the same lines, the WaPo gave up a big chunk of the Outlook section today to some bozo who proposed that the way to get people back to work was to give them an amount equal to a couple months' worth of unemployment benefits as a 'signing bonus' if they take a job and get off of unemployment within 39 weeks.

It was all I could do not to scream, "YOU IDIOT!! The problem isn't that people need to be coaxed back into the workforce - the problem is that THERE ARE NO FUCKING JOBS!! There are SIX unemployed people out there for every ONE opening!!"

The example this bozo gave was of someone who'd been making $52K but was continuing to collect unemployment because the best job offer she'd received paid $45K. A signing bonus, the bozo said, would have gotten her back to work. Yeah, you can hardly shake a tree without someone like that falling out.

It doesn't bother me that, in a world of stupid people, there's one who's stupid in this particular way. The problem is with the people who give bozos like this a platform. I would love to meet the WaPo idiots who decided that this guy's piece was worth putting in the paper, and ask them what the hell they were thinking.

Our discourse really is ruled by insular idiots. At first, the Versailles analogy annoyed me, but the more attention I pay, the more clearly apropos it is.

Sir Charles


I think opinion among the centrist columnists is not quite so right wing on taxes. For instance, Friedman is a frequent proponent of higher gas and carbon taxes and Ruth Marcus advocates getting rid of all of the Bush tax cuts. What they share with the more right wing columnists, though, is I think a reluctance to really tax in a notably progressive way and Marcus, at least, is obsessed with cutting entitlements.

Friedman was incredibly cavalier about the Iraq War -- I think he has begun to sense that the use of force has been both disastrous and incredibly expensive, but I don't know that that has led him to reevaluate the manner in which we spend for defense.

Most of the centrist, especially Marcus, have written virtually nothing about unemployment while highlighting the deficit. I can't really understand this thinking, except to say that these people run in circles in which unemployment is simply not a factor.

To give the devil his due, Friedman is actually quite good on climate change and moving away from fossil fuels and would actually take aggressive, tax-oriented measures to do this.

Again, using Friedman and Marcus as centrist proxies, both are overly enamored of a delusional, never to happen, kind of bipartisanship and Marcus, at least, is on record defending the filibuster. This formulation leads us to either gridlock or policies dictated by Rpublican dogma.

l-t c,

I don't know if I can bear to look. I am away today, so don't have the dead tree version with me.

Buth the notion that people are unwilling to take jobs that offer less pay strikes me as nonsensical.

DC is actually getting a bit of a Versailles feel to me as well -- it seems so removed from what is really happening out there and the policies that might alleviate the ongoing misery.


I wasn't talking specifically about any particular individual; obviously there are some differences on a few specific issues, like climate change. I was talking about the elite consensus in general: while there are some elites that believe climate change is a real threat, elites as a whole have ruled doing anything about it--especially anything that would raise taxes or threaten oil company profits--completely off the table. I think my overall characterization of the consensus is mostly accurate. I did leave out one important one, though: Unions are an anachronism from a different era, and they interfere with economic efficiency and thus should be abolished.

The Versailles comparison has always made sense to me, BTW.


I also should clarify that I wasn't just talking about the media. The "elite consensus" includes policymakers, business, the Federal Reserve, the political leadership, et al, in addition to the big media outlets, and I was characterizing the apparent beliefs of this group as a whole. It's the mindset that leads a smart guy like Tim Geither to assert that stimulus is "sugar" that will have little benefit, that is keeping us in Iraq and Afghanistan for no apparent reason, that allows the idea of major entitlement-cutting to keep being raised in the face of massive public opposition, etc.

Sir Charles


I think the elite consensus on climate change and taxes is more complicated. Indeed, I think there is probably a soft consensus among non-right wingers that taxes need to increase and that something needs to be done about climate change. Here, however, the procedural gutlessness and the need for bullshit bipartisan approval for all things, leads to total paralysis as the wreckers from the GOP will have nothing to do with such things.

So there is, in Krugman's words, a kind of learned helplessness in the face of determined minority opposition. The only real way forward if you actually think taxes need to increase and emissions to decrease is for the Republicans to be crushed electorally, but it would be rude and partisan to suggest this.

On economics, on the other hand, the elite consensus is pretty much as you describe -- wedded to the notion that unfettered capitalism without unions will lead to prosperity despite all available evidence to the contrary, dubious about the sustainability of entitlements, and skeptical about large scale public expenditure, except for military purposes.

The other thing, to get back to the media and what I think l-t c was also raising, is that to the elite media there is always the need to try to "balance" things out -- you can't call the Republicans liars, you always have to present their view no matter how mendacious, and you can't call facts facts - you can merely say, some say X, others say Y, the truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle.

This is debilitating to informed public debate.


Can't argue with any of that, Sir C. The elite consensus also supports the mindless insistence on bipartisanship, the tolerance of endless filibustering (which leads the Dems to get blamed for the absence of bipartisanship), and the expectation that "both sides" get an equal hearing, regardless of facts, and that Fox News is really just another news organization.


I do have to point out, however, that the GOP took a pretty good electoral whacking in 2008, and that doesn't seem to have changed things much. Even if the House goes back to the Dems and Obama's re-elected, he won't get 60 votes in the Senate again, so I doubt he'll be able to do very much.

Sir Charles


Yeah, I think holding on to the Senate is going to be a big challenge -- possibly the biggest challenge of 2012.

I certainly think a net loss of seats is almost inevitable. So an ambitious legislative agenda is unlikely, absent the complete repeal of the filibuster rule, which I can't imagine happening.


Sadly the market for bullshit is, appropriately enough, always a bull market, but the skills of building tradesmen are dependent on an economy in which real shit, rather than bullshit, is being built.

Nice rant. :)

kathy a.

ltc, the idea that people stay on unemployment rather than taking lower-paying jobs, and that this would be overcome by paying signing bonuses, is ridiculous.

unemployment pays a very limited amount. recipients must show they are actively seeking employment; presumably that exercise puts them in touch with how many jobs are out there, and the pay range for particular jobs. they are not going to do nearly as well on unemployment as they would with a paying job, even one that represents a pay cut from previous employment.

on what planet would employers pay signing bonuses when there is an excess of people seeking employment? perhaps this happens in very specialized occupations -- but why would any employer do this unless they felt their chosen applicant would be snatched up by someone else if they didn't sweeten the pot? applicants in a position to expect signing bonuses are not applicants who will stay on unemployment very long.

it is in the national interest, and the interest of individuals, to value jobs over this breathless attention to deficit reduction, and to keep talking about the dual priorities of the GOP: to punish the less fortunate, and honor wealth creation for the few above all else.

people who are working spend money; they buy things and services, and that creates demand, and voila. also, the very wealthy don't need more, and they are not paying their fair share vis a vis the wealth they are accumulating.


What skills does he say we're lacking? Does he know? What jobs aren't in short supply? Does he know?

While being underwater does mean you generally can't move, yes, that has nothing to do with skill mis-match. It's not that one region is suffering a downturn and those workers can't escape it - no region has excess jobs in any industry, so therefore they have nowhere to move to!

Sure, there's slightly more or less unemployment across the country, but only one place is really low, and it isn't even what we consider down to a normal level of unemployment!


I don't generally begrudge people their stuff, but here is where Friedman is composing this drivel. And why don't I see any pitchforks in the frame?


Another view . :^)

Sir Charles


Yeah, having this guy lecture people on their carbon footprints -- especially as his wife is the heir to a shopping mall fortune -- is rich.

That's not some exurb by the way, but Bethesda, MD, which is pretty expensive real estate.

You think old Tom might be a little bit out of touch with the average American.

Sir Charles


The moustache of understanding doesn't have to explain himself to us mere, skills-lacking mortals.

Paula B

Below is a chunk of a piece written by Tim Blagg, editor of The (Greenfield, Massachusetts) Recorder. Thought you might find this interesting, in light of tonight’s debate or whatever they call it. I’m hoping they skewer Romney, but doubt anyone will.
The Recorder carried flaming editorials while then-Gov. Romney was slashing and bashing everything within reach but, for some reason, Blagg was almost kind to him in this rather goofy piece:

"As to the putative frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, well, you can have them.
We know all about the Mittster here in Massachusetts, and what we know isn’t very good.
He began to run for president the day he took office in Boston and never looked back.
Frankly, I think he’s a phony. He’s gorgeous, and so is his family, but there’s nothing there … no core, no essence.
He trims his sails to the prevailing wind so often, he seems more like an America’s Cup skipper than a national leader.
While he was here, well, he wasn’t really here.
Nobody ever saw him. I certainly didn’t and I’ve met and talked with every governor since Mike Dukakis … except Mitt. What’s worse is that I’ve talked to a number of state representatives who never met him, either, not even to shake his hand.
He stayed in his office, surrounded by staff, and planned his run for the Oval Office.
One of his first moves after being elected was to consolidate the power — and the information access — of the entire state government in his office. Agencies were deprived of public relations officers and those remaining were forbidden to talk to the press.
All inquiries had to be processed through his office, presumably to maximize and carefully tailor his public persona.
The one good thing he did — ironically — is the thing he’s trying to distance himself from today, and that’s universal health care.
I could never quite understand how that happened on his watch, but it’s pretty clear that it’s been a good thing for the less affluent residents of the state. A lot of people have been cared for since it began, people who would have had to be treated at the emergency room and then be unable to pay.
Now Mitt is trying to pretend he had nothing to do with it, wiggling on the hook and declaring he’s against government health care…Mitt is smart but has no core.”

kathy a.

i was thinking the lot looked a little tight for that mansion. city living explains that.

he's not giving his own predictions about jobs that will need filling with special skills -- that's a subject of his upcoming book -- but he quotes someone as saying there are "potential shortages in many occupations, such as nutritionists, welders, and nurse’s aides — in addition to the often-predicted shortfall in computer specialists and engineers."

seems to me the market is not great for computer folks, either -- look at the dotcom collapse, the huge layoffs of major corporations [especially after mergers], the shipping of jobs overseas. nurse's aide -- i don't dispute they are needed, but this is a low-paying job, and it involves really hard, sometimes disgusting work -- could the problem possibly be that employers do not value them enough?

kathy a.

nice clip, paula.

kathy a.

in open thread -- romney is using jobs , and i think in a dishonest way. this economy did not start sucking when obama took office. so far, i'm not seeing how he plans to make things better.

Sir Charles

Paula and kathy,

The jobs thing is smart -- but I think it is going to bite him in the ass.

His company, Bain Capital, basically canibalized companies, took what they could from their assets, and then bankrupted them. There is precious little job creation and much job loss in these tales -- at least from what I've seen to date.


Sir C,

I think that's what passes for a jobs-creation program in GOP circles these days.

Sir Charles


Well I guess he created his own job.

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