Friday, September 19, 2003
The great white whale of income inequality
My last Krugman post managed to generate a vigorous debate in the comments section while simultaneously confusing Donald Luskin. So it's worth focusing more closely on one of the points where Krugman's current analysis goes off the track -- his Ahab-like obsession with income inequality.
One of Krugman's biggest complaints about the trajectory of the American economy is the rise in income inequality. This rise was particularly acute during the Clinton era, and a constant refrain of his writing is that Bush's tax cuts will merely accelerate this trend, leading to more social frictions.
1) Inequality is the wrong variable. I wrote a longish post over the summer about why the fears about income inequality are way overblown. To sum up -- a focus on inequality overlooks the high degree of income mobility in the United States, as well as the absolute improvements over time in the lives of the poorest Americans. For another refresher on this, go check out Todd Bass' more recent analysis on this point (link via Instapundit).
2) The sources of inequality matter. Take Krugman's concerns at face value. Are there moral reasons to oppose this rise in inequality? Anyone not completely blinded by ideology would at least acknowledge there are valid arguments against increasing inequality. However, a key question is the causes behind inequality. If the reason is increased social stratification due to the advantages accrued by inherited wealth, then I'm pretty sympathetic, since such stratification stifles growth. If the reason is increased opportunities for gain via entrepreneurial activity, then I'm pretty unsympathetic, because entrepreneurial activity promotes growth.
In Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists (p. 92), Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales make an important point about the changing origins of American wealth:
Americans will not begrudge the rich getting richer if it's by dint of effort. [Krugman would respond by pointing to the astronomical rise in CEO pay--ed. No doubt, there are examples of malfeasance in matters of corporate governance. Suggesting a systemic problem, however, is a bit of an exaggeration, given the increase in asset prices of U.S. firms over the past twenty years. It's telling that Rajan and Zingales, who are sensitive to the issue of income distribution, are far more afraid of overreegulation in response to Enron-like episodes than underregulation]
For more on this, go read Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez's NBER paper, "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998" (updated in 2000).
3) Rising inequality does not lead to a breakdown in social cohesion. This is Krugman's core concern -- that inequality will lead to political and social instability. To repeat what he told Kevin Drum:
Krugman's reference to 1970 is interesting, since income inequality was much lower in 1970, the peak of the Great Society programs.
Despite the reduced level of inequality, society was more polarized back then. Anyone who believes that the country currently has a more socially polarizing climate now than in 1970 is, well, either lying or lost their grip on reality. Does Krugman really think that the debates about Iraq or affirmative action today even approximate the division and discord that Vietnam, Kent State or school busing generated thirty years ago?
Economic inequality has a far less significant effect on social instability relative to other factors -- the rate of absolute poverty, the method of raising armed forces, and the rate of economic growth and labor productivity. Krugman needs to worry about it less.
Rural responses to lost manufacturing
Last month I talked about how the outsourcing phenomenon was affecting rural communities in particular, and how this would affect the 2004 election. What I did not talk about was how rural communities could respond to the secular decline in manufacturing jobs.
Last Sunday the Hartford Courant ran a story about how a rural area near and dear to my heart -- the northwest corner of massachusetts -- has dealt and is dealing with this phenomenon. The answer appears to be mass infusions of contemprary art:
Read the whole thing -- and thanks to Official Blogmom Esther Drezner for the link.
From this story, it's possible to carry Virginia Postrel's argument in The Substance of Style farther than she may intend for it to travel. It's already been argued that the cities that have the cultural endowments to attract a "creative class" do the best in terms of economic vitality. It's logical to believe that this could apply to rural communities as well. In the 21st century, aesthetics will play as crucial a role in determining national, regional or local competitiveness as proximity to raw materials played in the 19th century.
A contrarian article on the WTO
For further WTO news, it doesn't get more succinct than the latest Economist cover:
(link via Megan McArdle)
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Why read me when you can hear me on the radio?
From 9:00 - 11:00 PM this evening, I'm going to be on Extension 720 with Milt Rosenberg on WGN radio 720. The topic? "Professorial bloggers". Fellow scholar-bloggers Erin O'Connor and Mark Shapiro will also be on.
If you're not in Chicago, or online, you can listen in by clicking here. The 10-11 hour will be call-in.
UPDATE: Media convergences are breaking out all over!! First Kieran Healy, after reading this post, listens in on the program and calls in from Canberra, Australia (see his comments below). Then, while the program is still on the air, I'm able to post my own reply comment (see below again).
As for the show itself, I'll post a link to the archived audio if it goes up. My wrap up thoughts:
Missing the Wesley Clark boat
I've had no time to write anything substantial about Wesley Clark's decision to run for president. Ryan Booth has done an excellent job collecting reactions here and here. He did miss one important take -- Josh Marshall's mixed assessment of Clark's post-announcement performance on CNN.
One random thought I do have -- there was a lot of noise during Operation Iraqi Freedom about whether Clark was doing a good job as a military analyst for CNN. Some of the criticism of his criticism was absurd, but there is one line of argument that would not be absurd. (Caveat: my recall of the substance of Clark's critique is not perfect, so I'll be happy to be corrected in the comments section.) I'm pretty sure Clark argued that the U.S. had not deployed enough troops to decisively win the war. In retrospect, this was flat-out wrong.
Before critics get bent all out of shape, let me be perfectly clear what Clark got wrong. It is true that the administration has delpoyed too few troops for the occupation of Iraq. That's different from what I'm saying Clark screwed up in his analysis. He thought the U.S. did not have enough troops to defeat the Iraqi military while still being able to maintain logistical supply chains and control over captured territory. On this point, I'm pretty sure Clark was wrong.
Given that security matters are his strong suit, isn't this a big vulnerability if he gets nominated? In part, this depends on what Iraq looks like a year from now. If it's still a mess, then it won't matter. But if things have improved significantly, then Bush can look at Clark and say, "We both screwed up. You were wrong on how to fight the war, and my administration was wrong in it's initial postwar planning."
Just a thought.
For more on Clark, go check out this Joshua Green profile in The Atlantic Monthly. There's a priceless anecdote:
Link via Milt Rosenberg.
The Ninth Circuit's petulance
There's lots to read out there about the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to delay the California recall election. Bruce Ackerman's New York Times op-ed from yesterday, and Robert Hochman's Chicago Tribune op-ed today both offer legal explanations for why the 9th Circuit ruling is such a bad decision.
However, the most honest thing I've read on this is Dahlia Lithwick's analysis in Slate of the motivations behind the decision. The key grafs:
UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Robert Hochman, who e-mails this addendum to his Tribune op-ed:
The transatlantic trend of full disclosure
I was all geared up to post something about President Bush's statement that the U.S. had no evidence Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11. Bush's statement -- and others by Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice -- was made to rebut Vice President Cheney's Meet the Press comments hinting at such a link.
Then David Adesnik beats me to the point:
Advantage: Adesnik!! This reinforces a point I made earlier this month about the need for more active White House management of the policy process.
And, while we're on the subject of full disclosure, it seems Andrew Gilligan and his bosses at the BBC have finally apologized -- albeit under cross-examination -- for Gilligan's shabby journalism. Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for staying the course on this issue.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
More blogging advice
In the wake of the advice I gave to new bloggers last week, several others have posted some valuable advice that's worth clicking on:
1) Electric Venom offers her top ten lessons after six months of blogging. Numbers nine, six, and five seem particularly relevant, but her #1 lesson is the most important:
2) Wizbang offers some advice on how to get an Instalanche. He makes a very important point on Glenn Reynolds' role in the blogosphere:
One other comment if you read his post: Kevin is probably the first person alive to believe I have "a cool last name." [UPDATE: Amish Tech Support offers a different route to attract Glenn's attention. And Instapundit gives his own take]
3) John Scalzi offers some thoughts about the enterprise -- which is a professional gig for him -- after five years of blogging (link via Matthew Yglesias). Two comments of his stood out in particular:
Academic freedom and blogs
Earlier this month, Indiana University professor Eric Rasmusen got into some hot water with with his blog. He wrote a post asserting that homosexuals should not be put in positions of moral leadership over children because, "I think they are attracted to people under age 18 more than heterosexual males are..."
Needless to say, this prompted some hostile reactions, which trickled up to Rasmusen's dean in the business school. There was then a discussion between Rasmusen and his dean about whether the blog should be moved off IU's server. Rasmusen volunteered to move it himself, and did so until his dean informed him that the blog did not violate policy, at which point Rasmusen moved back. During this brouhaha, there was some debate in the blogosphere about the relative merits of online academic freedom. But with the dean's decision, things were dying down.
Today, however, IU Chancellor Sharon Brehm upped the ante by arguing that the university needs to revisit it's policy of supporting blogs. Press reports are here and here. Rasmusen reprints the entirety of Brehm's comments (and his response) on his blog. Here's an excerpt of the chancellor's comments:
My thoughts on this are pretty simple:
If Brehm really read what she said -- and what Mill said -- then there is no need for a review. The "role of these personal web pages in our communal and intellectual life" is to promote the free and full expression of ideas by professors and students alike. As Mill himself would point out, the cure for promulgated ideas that are believed to be offensive or wrong is more speech, not less.
Brehm exercised that right and encouraged others to do the same -- in, among other formats, on blogs. What need there is for a review beyond that is truly beyond me.
[Wait, wait, you forgot the ritual denunciation of Rasmusen's views on homosexuality.--ed. That's completely irrelevant to this question. As an aside, however, it's worth highlighting a fact that Louis Menand pointed out in The Metaphysical Club. One of the triggering events for the emergence of academic freedom was when a Stanford University professor was fired for making a speech that contradicted co-founder Jane Stanford's views on the matter. The professor made a eugenicist argument against Asian immigration.]
Food and the blogosphere
Josh Chafetz rhapsodizes about smoked salmon.
And Gregg Easterbrook has some excellent suggestions for new Ben & Jerry's flavors.
My only contribution -- add sliced cucumbers to Josh's recipe. Trust me, it's good.
UPDATE: Continuing on the theme of food and the blogosphere, I was fortunate enough to share a lovely but off-the-record lunch with Virginia Postrel and Jacob Levy today. Virginia is in Chicago on her book tour. From lunch, I can aver that she's even more delightful in person than on television, and she definitely knows a thing or two about style.
[Hey, you and Glenn Reynolds had Postrel moments on the same day.--ed. Yes, but mine was in person and included lunch. Advantage: Drezner!!]
Must-read for the day
What's brilliant about this piece is that Levy points out that the argument that the tax burden should be shared broadly is of a piece with arguments that the left is far more comfortable advancing -- reviving the draft, opposing school vouchers, and keeping Social Security as a universal benefit.
Read the whole thing.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
They report, Roger Simon decides
Roger L. Simon compares what John Burns of the New York Times and Christiane Amanpour of CNN had to say about media coverage of Iraq before and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The results aren't pretty for Amanpour.
It's worth pointing out specifically how Burns contradicts Amanpour. USA Today quotes the CNN reporter saying the following on Tina Brown's CNBC show:
Amanpour is correct -- CNN was muzzled during its war coverage. However, you have to take a look at what Burns says to discover who did the muzzling:
Well, at least they can agree that CNN was muzzled during the war.
The logic of suicide terrorism
The tired refrain against academic political science is that the discipline is so consumed with abstract theoretical debates that it fails to study "real world" problems. [I thought the standard refrain was that too many political scientists lean to the left--ed. That's a different refrain -- click here if that's what you care about.] Therefore, it's important to highlight those research programs that contradict this meme.
Which brings me to my colleague, Robert Pape. The American Political Science Review just published Pape's essay, "The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism" as the lead article in its August 2003 issue.
I'd describe the topic as pretty important, and Pape has some interesting and provocative things to say about it. Here's the abstract:
To download a .pdf version of the paper, click here.
It's worth noting that Pape's findings do not lead to clear-cut policy solutions. For example, Adam Wolfson, while bestowing heaps of praise on Pape's essay in NRO, concludes:
This is one logical conclusion to draw. However, Pape comes to a very different conclusion, as the final two paragraphs of his paper suggest:
Whether Pape is correct in the conclusions he draws from his evidence is an open question. Pape's seminal contribution to this critical discussion, however, is not.
A welcome replenishment of New England optimism
I'm a Boston Red Sox fan -- been so since I started paying attention to baseball. I don't talk about it too much on the blog because, well, I'm a bit ashamed about it. Some of my fellow Red Sox fans have been driven so mad by the team's failures over the years that they've surrendered to the dark side of the force and will run down the team after every minor kerfuffle.
Now, as a Red Sox fan who lives in Chicago, I know about the pain of not winning a World Series for 263 seasons. I watched Bucky f@#%ing Dent hit his home run in 1978; I watched the Mets come back in 1986. I understand the source of the sourness. But I can't condone it.
So it's cheering to read this Boston Globe essay about a new generation of Sox fans:
At present, the Red Sox have a decent chance to make the playoffs. Some among the baseball cognoscenti are boldly predicting they'll win it all this year. If that happens (or if either Chicago team wins) I'd be delighted [By "delighted," do you mean naked, drunk and screaming your head off?--ed. Er, yeah, something like that.]
But the rise of New England sports optimists -- those don't bad-mouth the team after they lose two in a row -- that makes me want to wear my Red Sox hat with pride.
Paul Krugman opens up
Kevin Drum has posted a must-read interview with Paul Krugman on his blog. As someone who's tangled with Krugman in the past, I was entranced by the interview's mix of defensible economic critiques and wild-eyed political paranoia (and a hat tip to Drum for doing a great interview).
Here are some of the choice quotes:
Go read the whole thing. [Won't your conservative readers be too pissed off to bother?--ed. Then they would be falling into the same trap that Krugman's last quote suggests, which is reading only one half of the blogosphere. However, for those who are right of center, open up a new page and look at this Charles Krauthammer essay on Bush-hating and then read Krugman.
UPDATE: Krugman is giving a lot of interviews to promote his news book. Here's a link to his chat with Buzzflash. One excerpt:
David Brooks goes for the meritocracy's jugular
On Saturday, David Brooks' NYT op-ed discussed what's been lost with the decline of noblesse oblige and the WASPocracy:
As someone who's generation is roughly between Brooks and these bloggers, let me chip in my two cents:
That's a seriously debatable point. But it is an interesting debate.
Monday, September 15, 2003
Is this good or bad for democracy?
One of the themes that Democrats have used over the summer is the idea that Republicans are subverting democracy through non-electroal means. As the meme goes, first it was the 2000 election. Then it was the redistricting efforts in Colorado and Texas (an instance in which I tend to agree with the Dems). Now it's the Californa recall.
So, the news that a Federal Court of Appeals has postponed the recall election because of disparities in voting technology across counties will probably provide some comfort to the Dems. However, an interesting question arises: is the use of undemocratic means to block a recall election really a good thing? From a partisan's view, the answer is yes. From the perspective of democratic theory, I'm genuinely unsure.
I close with a dare to the many lawyer-bloggers out there: Devise a theory of judicial intervention that argues that either this Court of Appeals intervention or the U.S. Supreme Court intervention in the Florida recount was appropriate, but the other is not. I think it's possible, but I'm not a lawyer.
Good economic news
Many readers are probably in a glum mood this morning, what with the world trade talks at a seeming impasse. I'll get to those talks over the next week, but in the meanwhile here's some good economic news.
Loyal readers of this blog are probably aware that I hold great respect for intellectual output of the Institute for International Economics. So it's worth pointing out that they're optimistic about the global economy:
The New York Times editorial page never ceases to amuse
Yesterday the New York Times editorial on Iraq was about the failed Security Council negotiations over a new resolution. It being the Times, it was quite critical of the Bush administration:
OK, so far I'm almost in half-agreement with the editorial. Then we come to the next graf:
Now, I'm a touch confused here. The editorial admits that the French were being unreasonable and ridiculous in their position on Iraq -- according to this VOA report, France wanted to turn over power to an Iraqi government next month. So why, exactly, is the Times is upset that Powell "quickly rejected" that proposal?
My guess: "lingering strains" between the Bush administration and the New York Times editorial page.
Let's hope time will heal these wounds.