Post from December, 2010

How Economics Saved Christmas…

Monday, 13. December 2010 21:17

Amusing AND educational! Witness the poetry of economics! And a Christmas theme to boot. D.GOOCH (quite the hoot!)

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Thor Trailer

Monday, 13. December 2010 21:07

Ohhhhhhhhhh YES!

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Noonan on Obama & Tax Cut Compromise

Saturday, 11. December 2010 13:58

Peggy Noonan’s article echoes some of the points I made about Obama’s rhetoric in yesterday’s Wal Street Journal. She also points out the harsh rhetoric he had for his own base, which you will also find absent in Clinton’s rhetoric following welfare reform. Whereas Clinton sold his bill as a triumph of centrism, bringing both sides together in a feat of bipartisanship, Obama lambasts Republicans for forcing him into this compromise and he lambasts the Left for not forgiving him for having to compromise. He at once expresses the same Leftist idealism, in attacking the Republican beliefs that he has been forced to accomodate, that he objects to when it inspires his own troops to attack him. The danger, as Noonan notes, is that leave yourself alone standing on a hill. And that’s not a good place to be for a president seeking re-election.

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Tuesday, 7. December 2010 10:15

A very unusual circumstance going on in the Senate today. The House passed impeachment articles against Judge G. Thomas Proteous, a district judge in New Orleans. This is only the 13th impeachment of a judge in U.S. history. Since impeachment trials require a quorum, you will also see the unusual event of a near-full Senate floor. A two-thirds vote is required for conviction. House managers present the case against Judge Porteous and the judge will be defended by his own attorney. Senators must submit written questions for the parties. You can watch it live on C-SPAN2. D.GOOCH

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Obama vs. Clinton: Lessons in Trianguation

Monday, 6. December 2010 22:11

There are reports of a compromise deal between the White House and Senate Republicans that would extend all of the Bush tax cuts, enact a temporary 2% reduction in the payroll tax, and reduce the estate tax to 35% (first 5 mil exempt). In return, the White House gets a temporary extension of unemployment benefits.

Obama is reportedly unhappy but resigned to the compromise:

Making no secret of his profound distaste for a compromise that forced him to accept an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, Obama touted other elements of the package that would cut payroll taxes next year and extend tax breaks for families and college students.

“I know there’s some people in my own party and in the other party who would rather prolong this battle, even if we can’t reach a compromise,” Obama said at the White House. “But I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington.”

According to Politico, some Democratic legislators are expressing dissent and opposition to the deal. However, it is difficult to see them taking a stand on a political loser in defiance of their own party’s president. Especially where President Obama has described it as a “grave injustice” to let the middle class tax cuts expire. Then again, stranger things have happened. The estate tax in particular, a tax that doesn’t raise much revenue but is often a political flashpoint for populist outrage, seems to be a problem for Democratic legislators:

“That would add a lot insult to injury for a lot of Democrats who are already troubled by an extension of the Bush tax cuts,” the aide said. “It might strike a lot of members as a bridge too far.”

What I find interesting is how much Obama is already tearing down his own compromise. There’s been alot of discussion over whether Obama will be able to “triangulate” as Clinton did. On the one hand, this looks like a significant step towards answering that in the affirmative – extending the Bush tax cuts, contra Obama’s campaign promise, looks alot like Clintonian centrism. But I don’t recall Clinton undercutting his own dealmaking by complaining about it. Rather, as I recall, Clinton talked tough up until the moment of compromise…then would hail the deal as a) political genius and b) an unmitigated good for America. This is a rhetorical point, but rhetoric is important. Obama’s policy here may be Clintonian, but his tone is Carteresque.

However, I’m relying on my memory here…and memories can be tricky things. So I went back and looked at coverage of Clinton’s signature legislative triangulation: welfare reform. Make no mistake, welfare reform was a more significant compromise by an order of magnitude. An equivalent would be some sort of free market revision of Obamacare…something it is hard to see Obama doing. Anyway, let’s look at what folks were talking about then:

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 22) — President Bill Clinton today signed a sweeping welfare reform bill that ends the open-ended guarantee of federal aid and shifts much of the responsibility for public assistance to the states. (288K WAV sound)

The measure, hammered out in Congress over the past several months, imposes a five-year limit on benefits, requires able-bodied recipients to go to work after two years, and gives states incentives to create jobs for people on welfare.

Clinton said it’s far from perfect legislation, but will go a long way toward overcoming “the flaws of the welfare system for the people who are trapped in it.”

The president told a White House gathering the legislation also should end the scapegoating and politicking that has surrounded the welfare debate for decades.

“When I sign it, we all have to start again,” Clinton said. “And this becomes everybody’s responsibility. After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue.

“The two parties cannot attack each other over it. Politicians cannot attack poor people over it. There are no encrusted habits, systems and failures that can be laid at the foot of someone else.

“This is not the end of welfare reform, this is the beginning, and we have to all assume responsibility,” Clinton added.

In a talk that seemed aimed at liberals who have accused him of betraying poor children, the president said he and Congress can correct what’s wrong with this bill, but they could not afford to miss the chance to fix a system that does not reinforce the values of work and family.

Note the subtle yet substantively signifcant differences in tone. They are saying very simillar things…but the underlying message is radically different. Obama’s rhetoric is along the lines of ‘I hate this compromise and think it’s terrible…but it’s better than nothing;’ Clinton’s rhetoric is more ‘It isn’t perfect but it is a good/essential step in the right direction.’ Obama seems focused on letting his progressive constituents know that he’s still one of them, and that he doesn’t like what this new divided government world of political necessity has thrust upon him. Clinton is busy taking credit for an “historic” if imperfect achievement.

Whereas Obama is essentially apologizing for betraying his Left and tries to distance himself from it accordingly…

In his remarks Monday, Obama singled out the estate tax language for criticism, saying “Republicans have asked for more generous treatment of the estate tax than I think is wise or warranted. But we have insisted that that will be temporary.”

“We’ve got to make sure that we’re coming up with a solution, even if it’s not 100 percent of what I want or what the Republicans want,” Obama said during a speech about the economy at a North Carolina technical community college.

Clinton was busy explaining to/challenging the Left with an argument that this was good policy.

Said Clinton: “Today, we are taking an historic chance to make welfare what it was meant to be, a second chance, not a way of life.”

“I signed this bill because this is an historic chance, where Republicans and Democrats got together and said we’re going to take this historic chance to try to recreate the nation’s social bargain with the poor,” he said. “We can change what is wrong. We should not have passed this historic opportunity to do what is right.”

You can almost hear Obama saying, “look, I don’t like this any better than you. But this has to be done.” Bitter but necessary medicine, swallowed with a frown. Clinton is giving the American public a steak. Yeah, it might be a bit overdone, but it is a delicious steak none-the-less. And what a wonderfull thing steak is, too! It will be interesting to see if this is true of Obama’s future triangulations (assuming he makes more moves to the center). Will it be the reluctant, apologetic, critical Obama that we see here on the tax cuts? Or will Obama embrace centrism and advocate for it and defend it, as Clinton did with rhetoric like, “The era of Big Government is over” in the post-midterm / pre-reelection wilderness? It’s hard to take credit for centrism that you explictly argue is ‘unwise and unwarranted.’ Something to look for in the runup to the 2012 presidential election. This could be the worst of all possible worlds for Obama: triangulation that angers and disheartens his base but for which he gets no centrist credit from the independents he’ll need to bring back in the fold due to his frigid unhappiness with what he himself is doing. In politics, if you don’t toot your own horn…no one is going to toot it for you.

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Uncivil Obedience

Saturday, 4. December 2010 22:28

I see the point…but I’m glad I wasn’t behind them! D.GOOCH

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A Musical Moment at the Mall

Saturday, 4. December 2010 20:38

Wow. Now this would have been a cool thing to see live! D.GOOCH

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Racial Gerrymandering and Cross-Over Appeal

Thursday, 2. December 2010 14:04

The National journal has an article on the Democrats’ diversity problem noting that, while Democrats have a more diverse population of legislators and politicians, most of those come from gerrymandered majority-minority districts. As a consequence, these minority legislators tend to be more liberal than your average Democrat, are from districts with majority-minority constituencies, and consequently have trouble moving up to higher office (i.e. the Senate, Governorships, etc.). Indeed, this suggests the counterintuitive possibility that Republicans have more viable national minority candidates than do the Democrats. An interesting read, particularly with respect to a topic we discussed in class – majority-minority districting and the ‘packing’ that has been judicially mandated since the early 1990’s.

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Lawrence W. Reed Talk

Wednesday, 1. December 2010 22:02

Well, the second lecture of the Liberty, Freedom, and Political Economy lecture series was quite interesting. Reed’s discussion of libertarian ideas and their interaction with public policy was well done. I especially found his argument on the 4 ways to spend money in terms of the transaction between earner, spender, and beneficiary quite compelling. In rank order of efficiency:

  • spend your own money on yourself
  • spend your own money on someone else
  • spending someone else’s money on yourself
  • spending someone else’s money on someone else

    The last being the way government spends money really brings home the inherent problems of redistributive politics. I also thought his story about the folks he met suffering under the Iron Curtain before the Cold War ended (particularly those folks who were part of the Solidarity movement in Poland) put in stark relief the real issues of liberty and exactly how fragile and special it really is. All in all, a very good talk.

    And for those of you curious from the Q & A, here is the I, Pencil speech by Leonard Read.

    Here you can read more about the Foundation for Economic Education.


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    2nd Speaker Tonight – Lawrence W. Reed

    Wednesday, 1. December 2010 8:59

    The second speaker in our Liberty, Freedom, & Political Economy Lecture Series will be here tonight. Lawrence W. Reed, the president of the Foundation for Economic Education, will be giving a talk on the Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy tonight at 7pm in the Doc Bryan Lecture Hall. Hope to see everyone there! D.GOOCH

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