Free Markets, Free People

The New Republic

The Left already walking back a Wisconsin loss as significant to Obama

I have no idea how the vote in Wisconsin will go today.  All polls seem to point to a victory by incumbent governor Scott Walker and my guess is that’s how it will turn out.

But the left, or at leas part of the left in the guise of The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, is trying to walk back the national significance of a possible Walker victory.

Citing the conventional wisdom that a loss today would bode ill for Obama in Wisconsin and nationally come November, well, he’s not on board with that:

I don’t buy it. And that goes the other way, too — I don’t think Democrats should take away too much optimism for their fall prospects if Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett pulls off an upset win. Part of this has to with all the usual reasons why state contests should not be taken as barometers of national sentiment, as listed in a smart guest post by Will Oremus on David Weigel’s Slate blog: "1) It’s a recall. 2) It’s happening in June. 3) The incumbent is a Republican. 4) Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney is running. 5) A significant number of states (49 by my count) will not be participating. 6) Need I go on?"

Seems to be missing a few numbers, doesn’t it?

7) the left initiated the recall, has poured millions upon millions of dollars into a state which Obama took by 14 points, and is seemingly failing in its attempt to oust a sitting Republican governor.

8)if the left and unions can’t motivate voters in this state, what does that say about their chances nationally?

9)the left elevated this into an election with “national implications”, not the right.

10)the left began the meme that this would foretell the November national election, not the right.

11)Barack Obama is avoiding WI like the plague because he understands the national implications of being associated with a loss there by the left.

Etc.

MacGillis is pretty sure he can figure out a way that such a loss would actually be good for Obama.

My colleague Noam Scheiber adds an interesting conjecture on the lessons that the parties will take from the Wisconsin results about the allocation of resources this fall, arguing that a Walker win might also help the Democrats in that regard.

Oh, well, then certainly a loss would be much less biting then (really?).  The Democrats would learn a valuable lesson about “the allocation of resources this fall”?  Yippee.

But how does MacGillis think this is a good thing for Obama?  Well, he manages to ignore 7-11(+) above (and pretty much everything else of significance) and reduces his analysis to the absurd:

So beware the pundits who turn Tuesday’s vote into nothing but a grand partisan referendum and fail to take into account a less cable-ready way of assessing a Walker victory: as a statement of grudging pro-incumbent sentiment in a time of cautious optimism about a painfully gradual economic recovery.

Anyone who actually believes it’s a “grudging pro-incumbent sentiment” being expressed in Wisconsin is doing an admirable and obvious job of whistling past the graveyard.  They also don’t have any real clue about what’s happening there today.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Quote of the day: Income inequality narrative killer edition

Mickey Kaus finds this from Tim Noah at The New Republic:

If you omit government redistribution from the calculations in the previous paragraph then four countries that previously were more equal in incomes than the U.S.—Portugal, Italy, Israel, and Germany—become less equal than the U.S.

Oh my.  And Kaus reacts with the qotd:

Wait. You mean that social-democratic, union-heavy, solidaristic Germany has worse income inequality, before taxes and transfers, than the cowboy capitalistic U.S., with its large underclass and out-of-control Wall Street greedheads? Don’t tell the narrative. …

Say it ain’t so!

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Had Christy Romer gotten her way, the stimulus could have been much worse

When Larry Summers and team were preparing a memo for Barack Obama on the planned stimulus, Christina Romer was a part of the effort.  The New Republic brings to light a conflict within that team about how much stimulus they should recommend.  As you recall, the final recommendation included two options.  Option one was a “modest” stimulus in the rage of $550 to $670 of legislated money (about the same amount that Paul Krugman first recommended).  The second option was for $850 billion and was the option Obama chose.

Summers mentions in the memo that in order to make a bigger impact on the “output gap”, a stimulus of over a trillion dollars was needed but most likely “not accomplish the goal” of reducing the “output gap” because of the “impact it would have on markets”.

Romer, on the other hand, felt that closing the “output gap” was much more important than the impact such a move might have on markets and recommended a much higher stimulus.  How much higher?  Approximately twice the level of the highest option presented to Obama of $850 billion.  That’s right, about $1.7 trillion dollars.  Romer claimed that doing so would bring the unemployment rate to “5.1%”.  But then, as we remember, the country was promised that if the stimulus that was eventually passed was made law, unemployment would remain under 8%.  

Of course it didn’t rising to 10.5%.  However the prediction came directly from the memo Summers presented to the president – $880 billion stimulus would create 3.4 million jobs and keep the unemployment rate at 7.3%..  Neither of those came true and the administration was reduced to claiming “saved” jobs in its defense.

Romer’s predictions were even rosier.  She believed that a $900 billion stimulus would create 3.75 million jobs and put the unemployment rate at 6.6%.  Again, not even close.

Yet, when you read the comments of others out there, you find some of them still implying that a larger stimulus would have been better for what ailed us.  That our problem was the size of the stimulus, not its design.

Of course that’s patent nonsense.  The stimulus failed because it was horribly designed and terribly executed.  And it was aimed at the wrong things.   It became a combination of slush fund for politicians and budget short-fall device for states.  Where what little was aimed at it supposed purpose (creating jobs) it failed.  We discovered that “shovel ready” was anything but.  Additionally it was used to bail out industries government had no business bailing out.

Whether it was $900 billion or $1.7 trillion, those facts wouldn’t have changed one bit.  About all that might have happened had Romer gotten her way is a few states might have been able to delay their financial reckoning for another year or so.

Noam Scheiber, the author of the TNR article (and an upcoming book on how the Obama White House “fumbled” the recovery) doesn’t go as far as to claim the larger stimulus would have been a better choice although he certainly implies it.  He argues that Obama wouldn’t have proposed it because Congress – even a totally Democratic Congress – wouldn’t have passed a $1.8 trillion dollar stimulus.

However, he argues, the inclusion of the higher stimulus number would have gotten Obama to “have felt a greater sense of urgency had he better understood how far he was from the ideal.”

First, I don’t agree that a Nancy Peolosi/Harry Reid controlled Congress wouldn’t have done exactly that, i.e. passed an almost $2 trillion dollar stimulus package.  One only has to remember how they steamrolled the health care bill through to doubt such a thing couldn’t have happened with a larger stimulus.  Secondly, it is highly debatable that Romer’s number was any sort of an “ideal”.

It was, at most, a “best guess” and given her predictions of the effect of a $900 billion stimulus (the size eventually passed) on job creation and unemployment, it is a suspect “best guess”.

And finally, regardless of the numbers proposed, it was a terribly designed and executed program that redefined “waste, fraud and abuse”.  Doubling that wouldn’t have made it better.

Unlike some out there lamenting Summers refusal to have included Romer’s recommendation, I applaud it.  That doesn’t mean I agree with the number he came up with, but to use Washington DC budgetspeak, he “saved” us about a trillion dollars.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Should Liberal’s support Occupy Wall Street?

That’s the question the editorial staff asks and answers in an editorial written for the publication’s November 3rd edition.

The answer they give is a qualified “no”.  Qualified in that while they sympathize with some of the points raised (which they note ironically are similar to those raised by the Tea Party), they find the movement mostly too radical. 

Why?  Well here’s the reasoning that struck me as interesting:

One of the core differences between liberals and radicals is that liberals are capitalists. They believe in a capitalism that is democratically regulated—that seeks to level an unfair economic playing field so that all citizens have the freedom to make what they want of their lives. But these are not the principles we are hearing from the protesters. Instead, we are hearing calls for the upending of capitalism entirely.

Okay.  Liberals are capitalists.   Let that sink in.  How does one seek to “level an unfair economic playing field” and claim to be a capitalist, where an unleveled playing field is almost a prerequisite to its economic success.  That may sound odd, but it is capitalists who fund capitalism and they’re usually far and away richer than most of those who end up benefitting from the economic system.

The very people OWS is protesting.

Venture capitalists are usually found in the 1% the protesters are decrying.   While I agree that under law, the playing field should be equal, crony capitalism (which isn’t capitalism at all) should be ruthlessly discouraged and government intrusion in markets dialed back to zero.  I see neither of those latter two items on the liberal agenda.  And remember – capitalism doesn’t claim to have a “level playing field”, but what it does promise is to be like a rising tide and lift all boats to a different and higher economic level of prosperity.   Its record backs that claim.

So make what you will of the editorial’s claim about the liberal version of capitalism, however they are seeking to distance themselves from the OWS crowd because it seems to mostly represent those who anti-capitalist.  However flawed the liberal idea of what constitutes capitalism, they at least acknowledge its worth and the fact that it is the basis of our success.

As Daniel Foster says – “let’s hold them to this” and make sure to remind them the next time they go on an anti-capitalist rant or write approvingly of government intrusion in the markets.

Uber liberal Oliver Willis  rejects everything the New Republic says because, he claims, they’ve been wrong about everything in the past.  I assume that passes for “critical thinking” in WillisWorld.  Willis obviously finds the OWS platform, such that it is in all its anti-capitalist glory, to be pleasing enough in some form or fashion that he implies support.

In fact, I believe what the New Republic sees for the most part is a genuine but very small core of people who began this simply out of frustration and now have the usual radical, anti-capitalist, socialist A.N.S.W.E.R. professional protesters along with labor unions like the SEIU joining in and taking over the protest sensing a chance to again push their tired and failed agendas.

Dana Milbank gives an example on who or what has shown up at the Washington DC event in, well, less than impressive numbers:

But while the Occupy movement in the capital has invigorated left-wing groups — Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, Common Dreams, Peace Action, DC Vote, Community Council for the Homeless and a score of other labor and progressive organizations are represented on Freedom Plaza — it has not ignited anything resembling a populist rebellion. To swell their ranks, protesters recruited the homeless to camp with them.

Already, there are factions. While the Freedom Plaza group, calling itself “Stop the Machine,” prepared to storm the Hart building, an AFL-CIO group was planning a conflicting event on the plaza. A few blocks away, in McPherson Square, an outgrowth of Occupy Wall Street had established an encampment of a few dozen sleeping bags.

The Occupy movement is in the midst of being co-opted by the usual suspects.  And that will bring the usual results.  Rhetoric that most Americans will find offensive coupled with childish actions that will have those who tentatively support the movement drop them like a hot rock.  Right now, of the “99%” out in flyover land, only 36% support the protests.

Anyway, Daniel Indiviglio at the Atlantic pretty much agrees with the New Republic and gives a reason that is more closely aligned with the progressive view of “capitalism” as it defines and supports it and as I’ve always understood them to believe:

The sort of anarchist-socialist radicals that can be found at the OWS protests threaten the progressive view that there are times when it is sensible and morally righteous for the government to intervene and prop up the economy, an industry, or even specific companies, if that action is thought to benefit the economy on a whole. The difference here is that the radicals think the occasional need for a bailout proves that capitalism is doomed and should be shuttered, while progressives believe that bailouts can help capitalism to work.

When you realize what is at the root cause of the problems we now are fighting to overcome, you realize the progressive version of “capitalism” is a failure.   As usual, their instrument of change is the blunt force of government where one doesn’t have to convince, persuade or sell.  Just dictate and do.  That’s the antithesis of capitalism and markets.

I don’t think the word means what they think it means.

But don’t tell them … they really, honestly think they’re capitalists. 

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Wondering why the right is skeptical of AGW

Bill McKibben wonders why the right is so down on man-made global warming.  He’s convinced it’s the hottest thing to come along politically since woman’s suffrage.  What is it we folks on the right don’t get?  Or is it we have a vested interest in other things that run contrary to wanting to see this problem solved.

Hmmm.  First, I’ve always believed that climate change occurs.  It seems to me that the left has suddenly awakened in a world in which the climate is changing for the first time.  Obviously that’s not the case and, as someone said, the only thing consistent about the climate is change.  So to address an implied question of the McKibben piece, the right certainly understands and accepts climate change as a reality of life.

However, that brings us to the second question – how significant is man’s part?  That’s where we differ.  Most of those who are skeptics question the science that claims man’s part is significant – more significant than the natural forces out there such as the sun and clouds and, well, just about everything else.  Add into that the fact that the present “science” claims that a trace gas of which we add a trace amount is the one primary reason for the rise in global temperature.

Uh, yeah, still not buying.  Factor in that until science decided otherwise, that gas was a trailing indicator of warming – not a cause.  There in a nutshell is the objection to the thesis that says any warming (or cooling apparently) is caused by man.  And we further object to the notion that if we would just stop emitting carbon (something that is and has been an integral part of our lives since our species emerged) all this would be fine.

McKibben is sure, at least on the political side, that it’s all about the right and oil:

One crude answer is money. The fossil fuel industry has deep wells of it—no business in history has been as profitable as finding, refining, and combusting coal, oil, and gas. Six of the ten largest companies on earth are in the fossil-fuel business. Those companies have spent some small part of their wealth in recent years to underwrite climate change denialism …

But as most know who keep up with this, their contributions pale into significance with the government grant money that has flowed unceasingly to the other side for years.  And, many claim, that’s had a significant part in corrupting the science.  The most recent to say this is Professor Harold Lewis:

A TOP American professor has quit a prestigious academic body after claiming that global warming has become a “scam” driven by “trillions of dollars” which has “corrupted” scientists.

Professor Harold Lewis, 87, described his “revulsion” at last year’s leaked “Climategate” emails which appeared to show scientists at East Anglia’s world-leading Climate Research Unit rigging evidence in favour of man-made climate change.

He branded man-made climate change “the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud” he has ever seen.

The scientists involved have been cleared of wrongdoing by a series of investigations. But Prof Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has formally resigned from the American Physical Society after nearly 70 years as a member.

He claims that the APS, the society for America’s top physicists, has refused to engage in proper scientific debate about climate change and ignored climate sceptics.

McKibben offers a second reason.

Conservatives possess some new information about climate science. That would sure be nice—but sadly, it’s wrong. It’s the same tiny bunch of skeptics being quoted by right-wing blogs. None are doing new research that casts the slightest doubt on the scientific consensus that’s been forming for two decades, a set of conclusions that grows more robust with every issue of Science and Nature and each new temperature record.

After telling us it is a massive conspiracy funded by the oil companies, we’re told that it’s just a tiny bunch of contrarians doing no research.  And note how he swings the phrase “scientific consensus” around.  Really, how 20th century is that?  I thought by now even the most ardent of warmists had figured out that real science has nothing to to with “consensus”. 

Finally – note that he simply ignores those recent findings that destroy his hypothesis that no new research supports the skeptical side.  Except of course that which has talked about sun spots, the fact that there’s been no real warming over the last ten years and the trend is toward a colder climate, not a warmer one.  Skip all that and he may have a point.

But mischaracterization by McKibben isn’t confined to just global warming.  He even mischaracterizes the right’s role in the civil rights movement – a common and easily rectified mistake if one would only do some research. Speaking here about a recent poll of conservatives who found Jimmy Carter to be one of the worst presidents ever, he says:

If Jimmy Carter was the worst guy the country ever produced, we’re doing pretty well—but surely it was his nagging reminders that there were limits to our national power that account for his ranking. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote an embarrassed piece earlier this fall about the failure of conservatives to take climate change seriously—it was the ’70s, “a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms,” that turned many of them off, he concluded. That’s not much of an argument—it’s like saying “conservatives mostly got it wrong on civil rights, so let’s never listen to them again about liberty and freedom.”

But, of course, conservatives didn’t get it mostly wrong about civil rights – their vote was the critical part of passing the legislation that Democrats tried to filibuster and block.  Yes, they were “Southern Democrats”, but they certainly weren’t “conservatives”, i.e. “the right”.

Anyway, this all boils down to McKibben wanting a carbon tax and assuring us that if we’d do that and do it quickly we’d probably be 90% of the way to solving the problem.  Of course, no word from the sun as to whether it would cooperate if we’d just take a bit more money into government for our emissions.  After McKibben chastises his lefty friends for their desire to do away with the internal combustion engine, he gives us this simplistic “solution” in its place.  And then wonders about the right’s skepticism? 

Finally McKibben appeals to the tradition of right intellectualism hoping that it will reassert itself and go along with the Chicken Little faction.  I wonder – given his obvious unfamiliarity with the real arguments of the right and the science that supports it if perhaps that intellectualism has already “asserted” itself and is calling on the left to do the same.

Don’t hold your breath.

~McQ

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The liberal left just doesn’t get it

I guess today is "stupidity day", for lack of a better phrase. In an piece at the New Republic, Jonathan Cohn laments "The stupidity of liberal apathy".

Afterall:

This seems totally nuts, purely on the merits. Obama and the Democrats passed a major stimulus that cut taxes for the middle class and invested heavily in public works. They saved the auto industry, created a new regulatory framework for the financial industry, and enacted comprehensive health care reform. Compromises watered down each of these initiatives, to say nothing of the ideas (climate change!) that aren’t going to pass. And still this was the most productive liberal presidency in a generation or maybe two.

He, of course, is focused on the “liberal” agenda and what has been accomplished, such that it is.  And he’s somewhat amazed that liberals in general aren’t incredibly impressed and energized by what has gone on these past 18 months.

But, as he admits, much of it has been watered down through compromise and, of course, it is that he sees as the problem that has deflated liberals around the country.

What he doesn’t seem to understand is only he and the liberal community consider what he lists in that paragraph as “accomplishments”.  It’s a matter of perspective and, if the polls are correct, most don’t see the “stimulus” as an investment, but instead a product of pure pork.  They consider it spending money we don’t have in places the government doesn’t need to be spending money. 

And then there’s the car industry.  A majority doesn’t see what was done as “saving” anything.  Again, they see what was done as government in places it doesn’t belong throwing their good money after bad.  They’re also sophisticated enough to understand why it was done – and the word “union” finds its way into those conversations.

Other majorities see the health care bill as a costly abomination unlikely to deliver on its promise of better health care at a lower cost and they also recognize the “financial regulation bill” as just another in a long line of governmental power grabs.

Most are surely sighing in relief that cap-and-trade, aka climate change legislation, failed to find its way into law.

So perhaps the liberals aren’t just in the dumps about the compromises that watered down what was passed.  Perhaps they realize the lie they’ve been telling themselves for years, decades even, that they knew what America wanted badly.  Here is “the most productive liberal presidency in a generation” and over half the country is up in arms about what has been passed into law during his watch.  And as a result, an energized electorate which isn’t friendly toward liberals or those who represent their ideas is gearing up for a November electoral bloodbath for Democrats.

Heck Mr. Cohn – that would depress even the most rabid of liberals.  To finally understand that your views are a minority view and not popular has to be devastating.  And understanding that what you now have is all you’re going to get is equally as devastating.  The stupidity in all of this is to be found in the pretense that if liberals shook of the apathy it would matter.

It won’t.  November is not going to be a month you like.  Apathetic or energized, the liberal day is setting and there aren’t enough of that type to make a difference in the mid-terms.  Independents, finally scared away from the liberal extremists, will make sure of that.

~McQ

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An Interesting Point And An Interesting Question

Marty Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic, has some interesting things to say about the Obama Olympic trip. He too seems to have come to the conclusion many of us have about our new Commander in Chief:

What I suspect is that the president is probably a clinical narcissist. This is not necessarily a bad condition if one maintains for oneself what the psychiatrists call an “optimal margin of illusion,” that is, the margin of hope that allows you to work. But what if his narcissism blinds him to the issues and problems in the world and the inveterate foes of the nation that are not susceptible to his charms?

Chicago will survive its disappointments and Obama will, as well. It is the other stage sets on which the president struts–like he strutted in Cairo and at the United Nations–that concern me.

To the point:

If Obama could not get Chicago over the finish line in Copenhagen, which was a test only of his charms, how will he persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons capacity or the Arabs, to whom he has tilted (we are told) only tactically, to sit down without their 60 year-old map as guide to what they demand from Israel.

Good question. To this point, “persuasion” seems to be the sum of our foreign policy strategy. What’s our alternate strategy if that doesn’t work? Or is our “clinical narcissist” beyond the “optimal margin of illusion” besides seeming to be in way over his head?

~McQ

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