David Brooks Is Wrong On So Many Levels

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via The Atlantic

I have to say, David Brooks’s column today is a doozie even by Brooks’s standards. He goes after the Progressive Caucus’s budget. I guess that’s progress-there was a time when he would ignore those hippies.

His biggest beef is with taxes. He tries to claim all these big important economists are saying horrible things about taxes, usual Republican stuff. However, one part stood out to me-

Edward Prescott, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics, found that, in the 1950s when their taxes were low, Europeans worked more hours per capita than Americans. Then their taxes went up, reducing the incentives to work and increasing the incentives to relax. Over the next decades, Europe saw a nearly 30 percent decline in work hours.

Right now, Greeks work longer hours than Americans and Italians and Spaniards work a comparable time to us. A little over a year ago, David Brooks hearted Germany. Yet, by that same chart I posted, Germans are a lazy, lazy people.

The final passage is just a spiteful swipe at the Progressive Caucus-

The progressive budget in the House seems to have been written by people hermetically sealed in the house of government. They work in government. They represent public-sector workers. 

So, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and the rest of the Republicans in Congress don’t collect a check from taxpayers? Also, Keith Ellison, the Congressman pushing this budget, represents less than 4500 federal employees. Ryan represents over 6000 federal employees. Cantor represents over 11,500.

Low taxes are the drug of choice for Republicans and Brooks is a high-functioning addict. He can act respectable and come across as reasonable. However, when this core belief is threatened, he turns into a cheap AM radio pundit…

Who’s Right? Who Cares-Hypocrisy, Gay Rights, and the Wheels Of Inevitability

Lest I be accused of being a hypocrite, I’ve always held one belief-I don’t care what a politicians motives are, I care what they do. So, with Republican Senator Rob Portman supporting gay marriage, I’ll chalk that up as a victory. I have many family and friends who are gay and I see what not having the same legal rights as straight couples does. One more vote for gay marriage is a good thing.

That being said, I hardly consider Portman a profile in courage. His support has to do with his son being gay. Before then, he had no problem supporting gay marriage bans as recently as 2010. Only after his son came out did he decide to support his marriage equality-and even this took two years. Last year, he was a possible Vice Presidential nominee and, given Romney’s campaign was more anti-gay rights than Bush’s 2004 campaign, he couldn’t possibly expect to be on the bottom of the ticket with a position drastically different than the guy at the top. Once again, I’m glad there’s another vote for marriage equality in the Senate. I just don’t want to praise the guy.

With this in mind, the false equivalency of Obama and Portman Glenn Greenwald has made really does piss me off. In one tweet, Greenwald brings up the two flaws his arguments constantly have. The first is the obsession with Obama and ignoring all the other factors at play. It’s true, as mistermix said in the article I just linked to, Obama’s decision was largely based on political calculations. However, how did it get to the point of Obama endorsing gay marriage and bringing his party with him? It took decades of campaigning from gay rights activists. They weren’t just let into the party-they had to kick down the damn door. It wasn’t that long ago when Democrats just wanted any issue involving gay rights to just go away. It took relentless campaigning and lobbying and organizing to get their message across. The Wheels of of Inevitability didn’t just roll in on gay rights-there were plenty of set backs along the way (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a direct violation of Clinton’s campaign promises, Proposition 8 succeed when 6 months before the vote it was going to go down in flames). Yet those activists who campaigned for gay rights didn’t give up the struggle-they kept on slogging away till one political party lived up to its legacy when it came to civil rights. Obama has always claimed to be a supporter of gay rights-his supporters forced him to live up to that. Portman’s only concern is about the well-being of his family. Beyond that, he could care less.

The second mistake Greenwald consistently makes is his obsession with hypocrisy. In his tweet, he’s trying to make it sound writers like Markos Moulitsas, Scott Lemieux, Charlie Pierce, Paul Krugman and others sound like hypocrites applying one standard to Portman and another to Obama. The answer to that is…so? Hypocrisy doesn’t prove your opponent is wrong-just inconsistent.

The fact is this-we have one political party that support gay rights and another one that doesn’t. Sure, you’ll get a handful of people who will endorse gay rights but never anything that will bring about change-just today, Speaker Boehner announced his position won’t change on gay marriage. Gay rights was hard fought with the Democrats. The question is-do you want to fight for change or just sit on the sidelines and heckle at those that do?

Showing Your Work: Who really got Iraq or the market crash right?

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One thing I remember from high school math is to always show your work. The teacher wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing and not merely guessing (or cheating). For example, if the problem was-

3x+2=14

You couldn’t merely write

x=4

You had to show-

3x+2-2=14-2

3x=12

3x/3=12/3

x=4

You get the idea.

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War, I’m quite afraid we’re going to get a lot of people showing us the answer they wrote at the time and claiming they have been vindicated. However, what they won’t show is how they got their answer.

As I look back on the war, I remember the problem a lot of anti-war folks ran into. They began to focus on the tactical mistakes of the war. The problems were-

  • the mission wasn’t international (no UN Flag, not even the backing of NATO)
  • we didn’t have enough troops
  • we made horrible political decisions like firing all Baath Party and firing the army and them replacing them with political hacks from the Republican Party

James Fallows wrote yesterday about how his arguments before the war, while critical, accepted the war was going to happen. Many pundits and policy makers can point to statements they made showing skepticism of how things would play out.

However, all this obsession with tactics underwrote what was the key problem-was invading Iraq necessary? Was Iraq a threat? Is preventative war a good policy? These are much more pressing concerns than troop levels or the members of the occupational authority. As Stephen Walt wrote last year, even with better planning, we probably would have still lost the war. However, now, as back then, no one is really discussing these things.

This reminded me of an article by the normally good Hamilton Nolan about Stanley Druckenmiller and his call for cuts to the social safety net. He cites as Druckenmiller’s authority-

Stanley Druckenmiller predicted the last financial crash (the collapse of the housing bubble) years before it happened

I have seen this many times over the last couple of years. Often I hear some pundit saying or being introduced with “I predicted the housing bubble burst.” Rick Santelli was the worst last week when he claimed Alan Greenspan predicted the burst. However, to quote Jeff Madrick’s Age Of Greed

The bursting of the housing bubble…did not alone nearly bring the nation to the cusp of full-fledged depression. The decline in housing prices would have resulted in reduced consumer spending and a substantial recession in the United States, as many economists had warned, but not the economic catastrophe of late 2007 and 2008. It was the house of cards built on Wall Street greed, unchecked by Washington regulators, that created the nation’s credit crisis…and caused the most severe recession in the United States since the Great Depression. (p.371)

In the case of Druckenmiller, he doesn’t blame regulation, he blames interest rates being too low for the crash and calls on workers to suffer for the sins of Wall Street.

We keep seeing this with people who got the public policy so wrong the last decade-blame some smaller tactical error everyone can agree was wrong (not enough troops to occupy Iraq, giving money to homeowners who couldn’t pay it back), ignore the larger problems with their world view, and keep on giving advice as if nothing happened.

This lack of accountability has led to the people who got things completely wrong to still hold positions of key influence. Kevin Hassett wrote a book before the Dot-Com bubble crash predicting the Dow Jones would reach 36,000 and he was a senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Dan Senor failed miserably in Iraq yet that didn’t prevent him from coming up with foreign policy for Romney. To be bi-partisan, both of Obama’s Secretaries of State and Defense voting for the Iraq War (though they later admitted to their mistakes) and, while Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew believes we need to deal with unemployment, one cannot blame people for being skeptical about his priorities given he worked for Citibank in the lead up to the crisis.

People make mistakes. Even the most brilliant minds get things wrong. However, it’s important we know your though process going into a decision. Showing us your model or your hypothesis is important. This means if you’re correct, we can and try to apply your methods to dealing with other problems. If you’re wrong, we can look over where you went wrong, and try to get it right. However, pundits and policy makers don’t seem to be interested in showing their work. To them, it’s about covering their own behinds and making sure they keep raking in the money or winning elections.