Saturday, July 21, 2007

What does YouTube mean for punditry?

Ezra Klein has a provocative answer:

Increasingly, though, the incentives [for television appearances] are changing. Assume that the incentive for going on television is to raise your profile (which is about 75 percent correct). If I went on television five years ago, a large part of my incentive would be to make the host like me. After all, these appearances pass in an instant, and most of you would never see the program. So if I want to reach the maximum number of people with my arguments and do the most to increase my visibility, I want to keep coming back.

Now, however, with YouTube and GoogleVideo and online archiving, a single, contentious appearance can be seen on the internet a million times. Everyone, after all, has seen Stewart berate Tucker Carlson on Crossfire, but very few of us had actually tuned in that day. Similarly, my segment on the Kudlow show, replayed on the internet a few thousand times, did much more for my reputation among the audience relevant to my success than have my more friendly, but bland, appearances on other shows.

Making sense often requires you to be disruptive, and not long ago, being disruptive was probably a bad idea. Now it's a good one. And since the channels are wising up and putting their videos online with advertising before them, they also want widespread online dissemination of appearances, and so their incentives are increasingly aligned with mine. Does this mean more folks will be making sense? Not necessarily. But it means their might be more room for sense-making.

Alas, I think Ezra has his logic backwards. What attracts viewers' attention when watching pundits is not whether or not they're making sense, but whether or not they're being disruptive. This, of course, was why Crossfire was on the air for so long. This is why Robert Novak's most memorable TV moment will be when he walked off the the set of Inside Politics. This is why's biggest viral moment involved a lot of disruption but not a whole lot of sense.

To put it in terms of inequalities, I would agree that (disruptive + making sense) > (disruptive + nonsense) for most TV viewers, but that (disruptive + nonsense) > (polite + making sense) for most TV viewers as well.

One could argue that this means that the best pundits will be both disruptive and make sense, crowding out everyone else. Color me skeptical, however, for two reasons. First, it's much easier to be disruptive than it is to make sense, and so for an aspiring pundit, the risk-averse attention-getting strategy is making as big a stink as possible. Making sense is optional.

Second, sometimes making sense is not disruptive -- it's boring. Most of the time, life is not simple, does not fit neatly into ideological categories, and requires "on the one hand, on the other hand" calculations. This kind of analysis can be really, really boring to people -- especially if they crave informational shortcuts in the form of brightly colored answers.

Of course,to defend this position, I hereby challenge Ezra Klein to a mano-a-mano, no-holds-barred bloggingheads smackdown to debate the issue -- a prospect that scares other pundits.

posted by Dan at 11:04 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 20, 2007

A dose of the old bloggingheads

My latest bloggingheads diavlog is now online, with DLC Ed Kilgore (who blogs now at Democratic Strategist). Among the topics under discussion:

1) The Senate sleepover;

2) What will Bush do about Iran?

3) Why do the GOP candidates like war so much?

4) Why is Michael Gershon putting the hate on Rudy?

5) Edwards vs. Obama on poverty;

6) The Democrats and economic populism

7) More mockery of The Elders.

I'll just apologize now for the fact that my face is much closer to the camera than prior bloggingheads. They actually wanted this, believe it or not.

posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Your one-sentence U.S. foreign policy advice of the day

George Packer, "Total Vindication," The New Yorker online, on Iran:

The regime there is brutal, and we should talk to it.
Read the whole piece -- no one will acuse Packer of having any illusions about the Iranian regime.

posted by Dan at 10:27 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Starbucks liberalism (??)

There's something about writing about Starbucks that apparently renders me incapable of determining whether the writer is being satirical or straight (click here for an earlier example).

Will someone please tell the hardworking staff here at whether or not Shadi Hamid is trying to be funny in these paragraphs?

There is something rather amusing (and self-indulgent) about “coffee-cup liberalism,” but at the end of the day, I kind of like it. Let’s export it. Oh yea, we’re already doing that. If you weren’t aware, Starbucks is in the process of colonizing Egypt. I can’t say that this is a bad thing, particularly as there is a new theory emerging in the political science literature called the “Starbucks peace theory" – i.e. countries with Starbucks don’t go to war with each other. So, instead of invading the Iranians, why don’t we force a Starbucks store in Tehran down their throats? That can be our stick, until we think of a carrot (or is it the other way around?).

Back to the original point. Your local Starbucks store is a fun place to spend time in with your laptop. If you spend enough time there, you begin to form a community of people endlessly peering with quizzical stares at their laptop screen while indulging in an exceedingly expensive coffee concoction of some sort, and you make lifelong friends (on one of those big six-person tables with the two blue lamps…yeah, you know what I’m talking about). This is liberalism at its best, and I’d very much like to see us impose it on other people. Why not?

UPDATE: I'm glad too see that others are confused by Starbucks.

posted by Dan at 09:22 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Clive Crook vs. economic populism

Clive Crook's Financial Times column today ($$) plows a familar road -- the Democratic turn towards economic populism:

Whoever wins their party’s presidential nomination, the Democrats are preparing to fight the next election on a platform of left-leaning populism. The contrast with Bill Clinton is evident. He was a centrist, pro-trade, pro-enterprise president – an avowed “New Democrat”. The next Democratic occupant of the White House, if the candidates’ campaigns are to be believed, will be old-school.

Mr Clinton campaigned against the odds to secure passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Today the party is against such deals. Mr Clinton worked hard to get China into the World Trade Organisation. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are Senate co-sponsors of a new China-bashing law. And the move to the populist left is not confined to trade. All the Democratic contenders are turning up the volume on stagnating middle-class wages, soaring profits, swindling bosses, dwindling union membership (Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama back the abolition of secret ballots on union representation), tax loopholes for the super-rich, oil company gouging, insurance company gouging, drug company gouging and every other kind of gouging....

Mr Clinton’s conviction that globalisation was good for America owed a lot to the experts – including economists of the highest professional standing – who surrounded him. Recently, eminent economists such as Alan Blinder, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers (who served as Mr Clinton’s Treasury secretary) and Brad DeLong have all expressed new doubts about the benefits of globalisation for the US. It is all more complicated than we thought, they say. It was hard enough for Mr Clinton to fight for freer trade when every highly regarded economist in the country said it was good for the US. Now that their message has changed to “We might have been wrong about this. We’ll get back to you”, the prospects for liberal trade have dimmed.

Economic populism traditionally marries scepticism on trade with fear of big business: “It’s all about profit.” A striking feature of many Democratic proposals is the belief that cheaper petrol, cheaper drugs, universal health insurance, higher wages, more generous employment benefits, almost any good thing you can think of, can be achieved by demanding them, in one way or another, from companies, or else by raising taxes on the super-rich.

The perverse results of the tax-subsidised healthcare mandate on American businesses show where this approach leads. In the end, the burden falls back on workers and consumers as lower wages and higher prices. The dispiriting wedge between growth in productivity and growth in earnings, the organising principle of the Democratic party’s current economic thinking, gets even bigger.

There is no question that the Democratic contenders are talking about the issues that concern most Americans. There is an excellent centrist case to be made for tax reform, to lift the burden of income and payroll taxes from the low-paid and to increase the burden on the better-off. Universal healthcare is long overdue, a shameful state of affairs in so rich a country. Americans pay more than they should for their medicines. More generous and more imaginative assistance for Americans who lose their jobs because of trade – or because of changing tastes and technology – is needed.

The present administration has little to offer on any of these questions. But the costs of reform cannot be confined to foreigners and plutocrats.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

A long overdue Salma Hayek post

Many, many fans (at least four) of have inquired about how my wife copes with my fondness harmless obsession with Salma Hayek (who, according to pollsters, is officially the hottest woman on the planet). Here's a two-part answer:

a) The Official Blogwife does not really read the blog (she is constantly amazed that there are people who regularly read it);

b) I'm not as dumb as Dalton Ross

Over at Entertainment Weekly's web site, Ross writes about how Salma Hayek has invaded his marital bliss:
[B]ack in 1997, not long after Christina and I had started dating, a TNT movie version of The Hunchback came on. ''Oh, I think Salma Hayek is in this,'' I said. Talk of Hayek as the new hottest woman on the planet was just starting to bubble over everywhere but I had never actually laid eyes on the woman. I was curious about all the Hayek hype. Naturally, Christina was curious as to why I was curious about an actress she had never heard of in a made-for-basic-cable movie. ''What, is she supposed to be hot or something?'' she inquired.

''Well, she is hot,'' I replied, merely repeating what every horny male had led me to believe.

That innocent four-word comment has caused me more grief in the past 10 years than every other marital miscue since. First came the accusations that I was a skeezy horndog obsessed with clown boobs. Then came the inevitable ''Who's hotter, me or Salma?'' queries. Finally, we came to the incessant sarcastic apologies, things along the lines of ''Well, sorry I'm not Salma Hayek!'' and ''Sorry I don't have a EE-cup size like your girlfriend Salma Hayek!''

You think all this would have died down after a while, but you would be thinking wrong. Another round of Hayek harassment blew through recently when my college buddy Eric Mabius told me all about the love scenes he got to shoot with Salma in an elevator on Ugly Betty. I made the mistake of relaying the conversation to Christina (because that's just the type of open, honest guy I am!). Her reaction was somewhere between ''Whoa, bet you're jealous!'' and ''Did you warn Eric to get his hands off your girl?''

The point is, if I could just learn to keep my mouth shut, we'd both be better off.

posted by Dan at 09:57 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Elders are coming, the Elders are coming!!

In his column today, Thomas Friedman ($$) writes the following:

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate....
Clearly, the reason Bush hasn't done this is that he's been waiting for.... The Elders!!!!

Cue the press release:

Out of deep concern for the challenges facing all of the people of our world, Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, and Desmond Tutu have convened a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems.

Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, today in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday. He was joined by founding members of the group, Desmond Tutu, Graca Machel, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus. Founding members, Ela Bhatt and Gro Harlem Brundtland were unable to attend.

"This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken," Mandela commented. "Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."

Tutu, Chair of The Elders remarked, "Despite all of the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. We -- The Elders -- will endeavor to support those people and do our best for humanity."

The Elders will use their unique collective skills to catalyze peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulate new approaches to global issues that are or may cause immense human suffering, and share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world....

"I see The Elders as a small but independent group that may fill an existing void in the world community," said Jimmy Carter. "Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism, the group will conduct unrestrained analyses of important and complex issues and share our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems."

The Elders will invite new members who share the attributes of the original ten: trusted, respected worldly-wise individuals with a proven commitment and record of contributing to solving global problems.

You can read Michael Wines' New York Times write-up by clicking here.

Before I succumb to the Elders' power of unrestrained analysis, I have to point out that their website makes the language in the press release seem modest. My personal favorite: "Never before has such a powerful group of leaders come together. Free from political, economic or military pressures. The only agenda of The Elders is that of humanity." I mean, with an agenda like that, Bush would be a fool not to turn over Iraq to them.

The founders of The Elders are Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel (according to Wines, “I was talking about the need for a group of global elders to be there to rally around in times of conflict,” [Branson] said, “and Peter said he’d had a similar idea.”), so you know this group will have both plush travel accomodations and a kick-ass theme song (they're so much... larger than life). Just imagine Jimmy Carter parachuting into Iraq to solve the civil war there backed by this song. Or, better yet, Desmond Tutu standing in the West Bank with a boom box over his head playing this song over and over again until all sides relent.

I could go on and on with the mockery (just imagine the supervillians that will unite to counter The Elders!!), but that's not really fair. This group has a large enough collection of Nobel Peace Prizes to ponder: bombastic language aside, will The Elders actually have any influence?

My hunch is "not much", based on this quotation from Wines' story:

Asked how [The Elders] differed from what United Nations diplomats were supposed to do, Mr. Annan replied: “We are not out to defend the positions of any institution or government. We’re ordinary global citizens who want to help with the problems of the world.”
While Track II diplomacy has its occasional uses, the fact is that most conflicts in the world usually require the cooperation of powerful institutions and governments. And sometimes they disagree -- not because of misunderstandings or mispeceptions, but because their interests genuinely diverge. And all the cajoling of all the trained negotiators in the world won't fix that problem.

The Elders won't be able to solve the conflicts that bedevil Iraq, or the Greater Middle East, or Darfur, or Somalia, or Nigeria, or Colombia, or Kosovo, and so on. At best, they will be able to leverage their star power to address problems or conflicts that are so off the radar that the great powers truly do not care... think Congo, for example.

Of course, once they start wearing capes, all bets are off.

UPDATE: Blake Hounshell finds another reason to be wary of The Elders.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I believe The Elders have found their Zan and Jeyna!!!

Mark Steyn alerts me to a Nick Clooney column alerting me to yet another new grouping of famous progeny. According to Clooney, they are called -- I swear I am not making this up -- the "Gen II Peace Team"!!! Click here to read their press release:

The Gen II Global Peace Initiative will work to promote world peace and nonviolence by building on the examples set by members' parents and grandparents to inspire current and future generations to fight injustice and encourage nonviolent means to achieve positive change. They will examine a range of options that will draw attention to humanitarian crises and potential solutions to conflict and to decide on a series of initial fact-finding missions to such "hot spots" as Darfur, the Middle East, Burma and Korea.
Among the participating luminaries listed is Naomi Tutu, daughter of Desmond Tutu, Chair of the Elders.

I, however, refuse to take the Peace Team until they have a pet monkey.

If The Elders and the Peace Team ever unite forces.... hoo, boy, look out.

posted by Dan at 10:21 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

This is a responsible negotiating partner?

One of the standard mantras uttered by Middle East experts is that if the Bush administration had approached Hamas differently when they came to power in 2006, that group could have eventually cut a deal with Israel.

This may very well be true, but every once in a while I run into a story like this one in the New York Times that makes me wonder just how much wishful thinking is embedded in that sentiment:

Hamas television, which was criticized for a Mickey Mouse-like character named Farfur who spouted anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish nostrums at children, has replaced the mouse with a bee named Nahoul, who says he is Farfur’s cousin.

Farfur was beaten to death by an Israeli who wanted his land on the previous episode of the children’s show “Tomorrow’s Pioneers.”

Nahoul, the bee, says: “I want to continue on the path of Farfur, the path of ‘Islam is the solution.’ The path of heroism, the path of martyrdom, the path of jihad warriors.”

In the name of Farfur, the bee says, “we shall take revenge on the enemies of Allah, the murderers of the prophets, the murderers of innocent children, until Al Aksa will be liberated from their filth.”

UPDATE: In the words of my people... sweet fancy Moses!!

posted by Dan at 08:30 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Coping with the global economy

In response to my last post on the rise of economic populism among Democrats (admittedly, one of a long series), Kevin Drum poses the following questions to yours truly:

  • Thanks to many decades worth of trade agreements, trade is pretty darn free already. So while trade agreements may not be huge sources of job loss, signing additional trade agreements to get that last 10% of free trade isn't a likely source of huge economic gains either, is it? It seems as though both sides may be making mountains out of molehills here.

  • How come free traders always yell and scream about, say, labor clauses or environmental requirements being inserted into trade agreements, but don't seem able to muster up the same passion when it comes to special treatment for favored industries? Seems to me that if it's a choice between forcing a trade partner to institute some kind of minimal child labor protection and forcing a trade partner to accept oppressive IP regulations favored by the U.S. content industry, the labor regulations are actually more justified and produce less economic distortion. Dan?

  • If Dems should be concerned about stagnant wages but shouldn't be demagoging it with trade, what should they be doing? That is, what should they be doing that conservatives wouldn't assault like mad dogs until the last breath was torn kicking and screaming from their bodies? Stronger unions? Higher minimum wage? Expanded EITC? More progressive taxation? Vastly increased assistance to help people displaced by trade agreements? Throw me a bone here. Anything?
  • Answers to these questions after the jump....

    1) The trouble with populism is (mostly) not about the remaining 10% of barriers to trade (though see below), it's about efforts to f$%& up the 90% of barriers that have been dismantled. The Baucus-Grassley-Schumer-Graham bill, for example, isn't about halting new trade openings -- it's about finding new ways to clamp down on existing openness.

    Furthermore, this is never going to go away. Protectionism is a great way to reward concentrated interests with diffuse costs, so members of Congress will always have an incentive to act in this way. The current populist mood makes it easier to do it out in the open, but as Daniel Kono has shown, it will also be done behind closed doors as well.

    This is why I'm so adamant about trade liberalization -- the status quo never stays the status quo, but creeps back ever so slowly towards economic closure.

    2) I'm pretty agnostic on "trade plus" kinds of agreements involving either IP or labor standards, and I challenge Kevin to find me a free trader who's been really gung-ho about intellectual property rights enforcement. I do understand, however, why U.S. trade negotiators care more about the former and not the latter. A general disregard for intellectual property protections across the developing world does blunt the incentive to innovate in the United States. The abuse of child labor, in contrast, plays a pissant role at best in the global economy, and has no direct effect on the United States.

    3) Policy proposals "that conservatives wouldn't assault like mad dogs until the last breath was torn kicking and screaming from their bodies"? Hmm.... let me offer four suggestions:

    a) Health care portability. Every poll I've seen suggests that workers are more scared of losing their health coverage than anything else... including their job. If the Democrats can propose something that's in the same ballpark as what Mitt Romney implemented in Massachusetts, it would go a long way towards alleviating public anxiety about globalization.

    b) Tax reform. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Kenneth Scheve and Matthew Slaughter propose a "New Deal for globalization" that includes making the payroll tax much less regressive:

    A New Deal for globalization would combine further trade and investment liberalization with eliminating the full payroll tax for all workers earning below the national median. In 2005, the median total money earnings of all workers was $32,140, and there were about 67 million workers at or below this level. Assuming a mean labor income for this group of about $25,000, these 67 million workers would receive a tax cut of about $3,800 each. Because the economic burden of this tax falls largely on workers, this tax cut would be a direct gain in after-tax real income for them. With a total price tag of about $256 billion, the proposal could be paid for by raising the cap of $94,200, raising payroll tax rates (for progressivity, rates could escalate as they do with the income tax), or some combination of the two. This is, of course, only an outline of the needed policy reform, and there would be many implementation details to address. For example, rather than a single on-off point for this tax cut, a phase-in of it (like with the earned-income tax credit) would avoid incentive-distorting jumps in effective tax rates.

    This may sound like a radical proposal. But keep in mind the figure of $500 billion: the annual U.S. income gain from trade and investment liberalization to date and the additional U.S. gain a successful Doha Round could deliver. Redistribution on this scale may be required to overcome the labor-market concerns driving the protectionist drift. Determining the right scale and structure of redistribution requires a thoughtful national discussion among all stakeholders. Policymakers must also consider how exactly to link such redistribution to further liberalization. But this should not obscure the essential idea: to be politically viable, efforts for further trade and investment liberalization will need to be explicitly linked to fundamental fiscal reform aimed at distributing globalization's aggregate gains more broadly.

    Slaughter was a Bush appointee to the Council of Economic Advisors, by the way.

    3) Eliminate all tariffs on food products, footwear and apparel. Because they are concentrated in food and clothing, the remaining U.S. tariffs hurt the poor much more than the rich as a fraction of income. Don't take my word for it, this is the argument made by the Progressive Policy Institute: "tariffs appear at least on average to be the only major tax in which effective rates rise as incomes fall." [UPDATE: Kudos to Congressmen Joseph Crowley (D-NY) and Kevin Brady (R-TX) for proposing legislation that addresses this issue.]

    4) Finally, if you really, really need to go after China, go read this.

    I now officially triple dog-dare the Democrats to embrace any or all of these proposals.

    posted by Dan at 10:40 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    The best sentences I read today

    From the AP, "Positive Trends Recorded in U.S. Data on Teenagers," July 12th:

    The teenage birth rate in 2005, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17 — an all-time low. The rate in 1991 was 39 births per 1,000 teenagers.
    Is it just me, or is that both a stunning and unambiguously positive change?

    Actually, Ezra Klein manages to provide just a smidgen of ambiguity (though I suspect even he would approve of this outcome).

    posted by Dan at 02:17 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

    Dear Mr. President: please leave Iran in limbo

    Dear George,

    I trust you and yours are doing well. I'm writing because Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger have this story in the Guardian that says you want to solve Iran by the time you leave office:

    The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

    The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo."

    The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

    Last year Mr Bush came down in favour of Ms Rice, who along with Britain, France and Germany has been putting a diplomatic squeeze on Iran. But at a meeting of the White House, Pentagon and state department last month, Mr Cheney expressed frustration at the lack of progress and Mr Bush sided with him. "The balance has tilted. There is cause for concern," the source said this week.

    Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state responsible for Iran and a career diplomat who is one of the main advocates of negotiation, told the meeting it was likely that diplomatic manoeuvring would still be continuing in January 2009. That assessment went down badly with Mr Cheney and Mr Bush.

    "Cheney has limited capital left, but if he wanted to use all his capital on this one issue, he could still have an impact," said Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

    This story jibes with what I'm hearing about your mindset as well.

    George, George, George.... haven't you learned to prioritize? Last I checked, Pakistan's tribal areas are falling apart, Al Qaeda seems resurgent, your homeland security chief has a bad gut feeling, and, oh yes, there's Iraq. Aren't there enough current threats to focus on without fretting about threats that could manifest themselves 5-10 years from now.

    Speaking of Iraq, there's another reason I'd like you to kick the Iran can down the road. I was sent a screener of a new documentary, No End In Sight. Here's a preview in case it wasn't sent to you:

    The documentary consists almost entirely of observations from former administration officials and servicemen. What they have to say suggests that even if you are the decider, you and yours suck eggs at being the implementer.

    The truth is, no matter how many times I game it in my head, I can't see a scenario where, by focusing your energies on Iran and adopting Cheney's perspective on what to do, you make the situation there even a smidgen better. And in almost all of them, you dramatically worsen the problem.

    Please, I beg you, just stop worrying about Iran. Worry about other things instead.


    Dan Drezner

    posted by Dan at 11:02 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (0)

    The libertarian center cannot hold

    This month's Cato Unbound is a debate over Brink Lindsey's Age of Affluence. In the lead essay arguing that the country is more and more libertarian, Lindsey allows the following caveat to his argument:

    [A]t best libertarianism exists as a diffuse, inchoate set of impulses that operate, not as an independent force, but as tendencies within the left and right and a check on how far each can stray in illiberal directions. Second, as I conceded in an earlier essay for Cato Unbound, American public opinion is noticeably unlibertarian in many important respects. In particular, economic illiteracy is rife; much of government spending – especially the budget-busting middle-class entitlement programs – remains highly popular; and the weakness for moralistic crusades, long an unfortunate feature of the American character, remains glaring (though today’s temperance movements direct their obsessive zeal toward advancing health and safety rather than virtue).
    At which point we flip over to Robin Toner's lead story in today's New York Times:
    On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy.

    Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year’s Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy....

    Even as Mrs. Clinton has sought to associate herself with the economic growth of her husband’s administration, she, like other Democratic presidential candidates, has been expressing a sharp skepticism toward trade and globalization under President Bush. In recent weeks she has announced her opposition to the proposed South Korean Free Trade Agreement and denounced globalization that “is working only for a few of us.” She accepted the endorsement of former Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who spent much of his political career fighting what he asserted were unfair trade agreements.

    And Mrs. Clinton has increasingly focused on “rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force,” and suggested that another progressive era is — and ought to be — at hand.

    Former Senator John Edwards, another Democratic candidate, staked out similar positions months ago and regularly notes that in the last 20 years, “about half of America’s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.” Mr. Edwards praises recent efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge funds. His campaign manager, former Representative David E. Bonior, notes that Mr. Edwards has been sounding these themes since his first presidential campaign in 2004.

    “John Edwards was there at the beginning of this,” Mr. Bonior said.

    While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy — get more education for higher-skilled jobs — were losing out.

    “People were told, you’ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs,” Mr. Obama said, “and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.”....

    Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said, “Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they’re losing their jobs, but they think it is.” (emphasis added)

    Kudos to Miller for at least being honest that much of the Democrats ire is wildly misplaced.

    The Democrats are right to focus on stagnant wages and health care concerns -- those are their bread-and-butter issues. Conjuring up a trade bogeyman as the primary source of all of this.... well, let's just say it fuels Dani Rodrik's barbarians quite nicely.

    UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks some questions about this post -- and I provide some answers.

    posted by Dan at 09:13 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)