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Friday, September 29, 2017

Jon Chait and Alex Pareene

I have a Jon Chait problem. I generally agree with him on most issues. I find him very provocative. I am very sure that no one cares about my opinion about Chait's latest post. That includes me. I don't want to waste time thinking about the exactly how far I agree with him. But here I am.

I also have a vaguely favorable view of Alex Pareene, but don't read him much. I was very entertained by his mild mannered amused Phillipic on Chait "You Are Jonathan Chait's Enemy".

There is one marginally interesting sub-topic. It appears that Pareene and Chait can't both be right, but I am confident they are.

Pareene wrote "I say “you” because his conception of the left almost certainly includes you. ... He means basically anyone to the left of Bill Clinton in 1996. " Chait wrote " (I allegedly oppose “basically anyone to the left of Bill Clinton in 1996,” which is odd, because I was to the left of Bill Clinton in 1996, and still am.)"

I see no contradiction. I think Chait was to the left of Clinton in 1996 and also that he considers anyone who goes out of her way to note that she is to the left of Clinton's positions as of 1996 to be a dangerous lefty. So the "basically" is a vague hint at "who is to the left of Bill Clinton in 1996 and says so even when not accused of being as far right as Bill Clinton in 1996".

Notably, Chait's point (such as it is) is that he supports Barack Obama and so do the vast majority of Democrats. This is true. It is also true that in "The Audacity of Hope" Obama hinted at some sort of praise for Clinton for the 1996 welfare reform. I am sure Obama would have voted against in 1996. I am fairly sure he would have vetoed 3 GOP welfare reform bills not just 2 as Clinton did. But he was not audacious enough to hint at any such doubts. I am quite sure that Chait would consider some statements dangerously left wing and disqualifying, even if he agrees they are true. This is Pareene's claim.

Now, I agree with Obama's not so audacious choice, and agree with Chait. In any case I wouldn't vote to nominate a candidate who says what I think about immigration (it should be allowed without any restrictions) or foreign aid (the foreign aid budget should be increased at least 10 fold). Where I differ with Chait is that he doesn't just demand moderation from candidates but also from commentators (other than Chait).

I took the one interesting bit off the end of a long boring post, which continues below.

I think I agree with Pareene. In particular, I think Pareene is right that his quotation of Chait is key to understanding Chait "the new breed of left-wing activists who are flexing their muscles within the party. These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent."

Chait strongly disapproves of such people and fears them. However, he never names them. This violates Chait's rule of polemic. He asserted that left bloggers were such people. Then when challenged read the lefty blogs & found they weren't far left radicals (yet) and asserted that they would become far left radicals. Then when challenged further read further and found many were wonks, divided the left blogosphere into the wonkosphere (analysts) & the net roots (advocates) then denounced the net roots for being advocates not analysts. His research lead to a tautology, unless he is willing to argue that there should be no advocacy organizations (which would render any discussion of the proper future for the Democratic party moot).

Interestingly Chait seems unable to even understand what Pareene is trying to tell Chait about Chait. He thinks Pareene's point is that the future of the Democratic party is named Bernie Sanders. I didn't detect any such opinion in Pareene's post. Indeed (I admitted above I don't read Pareene much) I have no idea who he supports for 2020 Democratic nominee.

Chait argues that Pareene is wrong to suggest "The other politician supposedly representing my worldview is Lieberman. (In fact, while my editor endorsed Lieberman for president in 2004, I wrote a dissent saying Democrats would be crazy to nominate him.)"

Just above the quote of Chait which I requoted Pareene wrote "The rest of this column is dedicated to listing the many ways in which Joe Lieberman, then engaged in a bitter primary fight, was a terrible Democrat.

Chait's claim about Pareenes alleged claim about Chait's views of Lieberman is plainly obviously 100% false. I can understand that people don't respond calmly to harsh criticism, but his failure of reading comprehension is amazing.

Actually there is an even more striking proof of this. Pareene's preceding sentence is "Here is a very instructive passage from a column he wrote in 2006." Chait conflated 2004 and 2006. How did that happen ? For one thing, he seems to have entirely forgotten what he wrote in 2006 and, in particular, that he wrote it in 2006.

Pareene continued "It is overly simplistic to reduce the fight over the identity of the Democratic Party to Joe Lieberman on the one hand and Bernie Sanders on the other, but if, purely as a thought experiment, those were the only two futures on offer, it’s clear which one Jonathan Chait would pick. He would rather belong to the party of Joe Lieberman. If you wouldn’t, then you’re the sort of person he has spent his career fighting against."

Lieberman responded "It is common to read Sandernistas describing the Democratic electorate as if Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were the only two choices available." But Pareene explicitly said the choice isn't Bernie Sanders or someone else. He was talking about a thought experiment.

His points are that Pareene is a "Berniecrat". This may be true (I will check) but has nothing to do with Pareene's post about Chait. He notes that Barack Obama is very popular and is not Bernie Sanders. This has even less do do with Pareene's post. I am quite sure he is sincere, but I think he can't understand Pareene's criticism, because he doesn't understand himself and how strange his obsession with the late 60s & early 70s seems to people who are younger than he is (and to me -- I don't confidently claim to be younger than he is).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sure Abigail Hauslohner, Paul Duggan, Jack Gillum and Aaron C. Davis Sure

I have trusted The Washington Post, since I learned how to read. However, By Abigail Hauslohner, Paul Duggan, Jack Gillum and Aaron C. Davis are testing me. In this article they assert that an American Nazi went over to that very dark side in spite of the well meaning efforts of Weimar.

"Fields looked forward to soldiering in democracy’s most powerful military.

That’s how Derek Weimer, his favorite teacher in 2015, remembers it."

Suuuuure. History doesn't repeat itself but it can't resist an ironic pun. No doubt about it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Jon Chait Shoots at all the Ducks in a Row -- and Manages to Miss (once)

I admire both Jon Chait and Glenn Greenwald. They do not admire each other. I enjoy it when they debate. Sometimes they both make fools of themselves.

Jon Chait wrote a blog post "The Alt-Right and Glenn Greenwald Versus H.R. McMaster". The chance to simultaneously critique the right and the left must have delighted him. The post is a critique of this column in The Intercept

Chait has many convincing criticisms of Greenwald. However he also wrote these paragraphs (bolding mine)

Trump “advocated a slew of policies that attacked the most sacred prongs of long-standing bipartisan Washington consensus,” argues Greenwald. “As a result, he was (and continues to be) viewed as uniquely repellent by the neoliberal and neoconservative guardians of that consensus, along with their sprawling network of agencies, think tanks, financial policy organs, and media outlets used to implement their agenda (CIA, NSA, the Brookings/AEI think tank axis, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, etc.).”

It is certainly true that all manner of elites disdain Trump. What’s striking is Greenwald’s uncharitable reading of their motives, which closely tracks Trump’s own portrayal of the situation. Many elites consider Trump too ignorant, lazy, impulsive, and bigoted for the job. Instead Greenwald presents their opposition as reflecting a fear that Trump threatens their wealth and power. (This despite the pro-elite tilt of his tax and regulatory policies — which, in particular, make it astonishing that Greenwald would take at face value Trump’s claim to threaten the interests of “Wall Street” and its “financial policy organs.”)

This is a very odd critique. Chait doesn't misquote Greenwald. Nor does he remove necessary context. he just quoted Greenwald writing one thing and then asserted that Greenwald had written something else. Greenwald wrote about a "consensus" -- that is about shared beliefs. for some reason, Chait asserted that Greenwald asserted that he was discussing people's concerns about their "wealth". Chait prsented no evidence at all in support of his claim. The passages he quoted say somethign completely different from the words near them which are presented as paraphrases.

This is crazy. Now it isn't as if Greenwald didn't preseent an easy target -- he too wrote silly things. But Chait presented no evidence that he ascribed venal motives to McMaster's defenders. His specific accusation (about a brief document) is not supported by any trace of evidence.

Later in the column Greenwald wrote "his policy and personal instability only compounded elites’ fears that he could not be relied upon to safeguard their lucrative, power-vesting agenda. " Chait was too sloppy to quote the word "lucrative" which does support his claim. However, the quoted passage clearly ascribes the force to "consensus", ideology, beliefs, dogmas. Greenwald also refers to the "most sacred pieties" of neoconservatives -- strongly suggesting other than mercenary motives.

As I mentioned Greenwald also wrote silly things. His conclusion, that both Trump and the deep state are dangerous, potential threats to US Democracy and probably sources of war and suffering is reasonably supported by the limited evidence he presented. It certainly is a widespread view (Greenwald asserts with no evidence that it isn't).

He argues that most Democrats are unconcerned by the policy making roles of Generals. He quotes no examples of rejection of such concern by Democratic elected officials (not one). He quoted Barbara Lee "By putting Gen John Kelly in charge, Pres Trump is militarizing the White House & putting our executive branch in the hands of an extremist." Then asserts (presenting no evidence at all) that "But hers was clearly the minority view: The military triumvirate of Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster has been cast as the noble defender of American democracy,"

The passive voice was used to assert that someone of some sort who is not quoted said something which proves Greenwald correct. This reminds me of something I like about Chait -- he insists that criticisms of allegedly existing arguments be directed at people who are named and quoted and not at vaguely described groups which might be made up of made up straw men.

Greenwald presents himself as a bold dissenter. He quotes Jeet Heer, Brian Buetler, Barbara Lee, Dana Priest, Bill Arkin, Marc Ambinder, D.B. Grady, Peter Dale Scott, and Mike Lofgren who agree with him. Good thing so many establishment liberals are willing to join the tiny minority with Greenwald. On the other side, he quotes no Democrat or liberal. He asserts that someone somewhere claimed that Trump invented the concept of the deep state. He ascribes this nonsensical view to lots of people who aren't Glenn Greenwald. He names none of them. I can't name anyone who believes that -- I was very familiar with the phrase back in the good old days of of 2014.

Sen Schumer is only elected Democrat other than Lee quoted by Greenwald who quoted a tweet by Kyle Griffin quoting him "Chuck Schumer on Trump's tweet hitting intel community: "He's being really dumb to do this."" That is Schumer said there are permanent government employees who can hurt presidents if they so wish. Greenwald continues "Although it is now common to assert — as a form of in-the-know mockery — that the notion of a “Deep State” in the U.S. was invented by Trump supporters only in the last year, " right after he quoted Griffin quoting Schumer noting that there is a deep state. Greenwald doesn't see the contradiction, because he knows, somehow, that Schumer's accurate statement of fact constituted enthusiasm for the CIA harming presidents. I have quoted all he quoted (that being Griffin quoting). Greenwald just knows that the fact that Schumer agrees with Greenwald about the power and respect for elected officials of CIA employees proves that Schumer is a terrible enemy of Greenwald and Democracy.

Worst of all, Greenwald argues that the proposals Trump made during the campaign were ratified by the public. This is nonsense. The electoral college decides who is president but the votes of a minority can't be a mandate. Also, as Greenwald notes, not only has Trump broken the promises Greenwald ascribes to him, he also contradicted himself during the campaign (on Syria he proposed doing nothing and considering using nuclear weapons). It makes no sense to try to find out what Trump voters had in mind (although I am sure they have minds).

In the end, I mostly agree with Greenwald and Chait. Chait made one silly claim without evidence. He pointed out many cases in which Greenwald claimed to be able to read peoples' minds so that the true meaning of their statements can de deduced without reference to the words they said. Greenwald concludes that Trump isn't the only threat to peace and Democracy. The odd thing is their polemical enthusiasm causes both of them to go beyond the evidence in very similar ways.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Riddle Me This

I read an interesting blog post on the web. I didn't save the url. Fortunately, I didn't read it at a funeral. Google sends me to Snopes which debunks the claims copied and pasted below. It appears that they are made up and not based on any evidence from interviews of serial killers.

The alleged test

This is a genuine psychological test. It is a story about a girl. While at the funeral of her own mother, she met a guy whom she did not know.

She thought this guy was amazing, so much her dream guy she believed him to be, that she fell in love with him there and then … A few days later, the girl killed her own sister.

Question: What is her motive in killing her sister?

DON’T Scroll down until you have thought what your own answer is to this question!

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Psychologist intergroup contacts himself

This is a very interesting article on psychology and support for Donald Trump. It isn't wildly original, but it is brief clear and convincing.

Also it is very lefty (as one would guess at alternet). Bobby Azarian has essentially no time for the hypothesis that Trump supporters are populist in any meaningful sense. As a psychologist, he looks at the causes of their votes, not the reasons they gave -- basically he treats Trumpism as a mental disorder (to be sure he doesn't write that explicitly).

But I was struck by ironic evidence of non-hypocrisy

4. Intergroup Contact

Intergroup contact refers to contact with members of groups that are outside one’s own, which has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice.


Bobby Azarian is a cognitive neuroscientist, a researcher in the Visual Attention and Cognition Lab at George Mason University

Now that's some serious intergroup contact. I fear Azarian is there, because it is just obviously the most desireable job he could get, but I want to believe that he went there in search of interaction with conservatives (and libertarians don't forget the libertarians or suggest they are just conservative hipsters).

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Game Of Thrones Guesses

1. I guess from the TV series it is official that John Snow is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryan

2. I'm a fairly sure that Lyanna Stark is also the knight of the laughing tree (and that's part of the reason Rhaegar loved her so much it caused a civil war).

3. in King's Landing there is a black cat with one ear who hates Lannisters . I am suspect that he was Rhaenys Targaryen's pet whom she calle Bellarion the dread. I also suspect that Arya Stark will see through that cat's eyes.

4. I am fairly confident that the horn of Joramun was found by John Snow with obsidian weapons and given to Sam Tarly

5. I am quite confident that the younger brother of Cersei who will strangle her is Jaime not Tyrion.

6. of course John Snow is one of the heads of the dragon. I guess that Aegon Targaryen VI isn't the third (he would appear in the TV series if he were important). Some suspect that Tyrion is the bastard son of the mad king. I don't have a guess. Also Brandon as warg might control a dragon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Left Wing Idiocy on Campus

Josh Barro notes that Republicans hate colleges and universities. The naive kid argued that this shows a cost of the recent left wing idiocy on campus.

Almost everyone on twitter who is older than Josh Barro (that's not enough I need a majority) was highly amused. The point is that there have been irritating left wing idiots at college since long before I enrolled (OK maybe 13 years before I enrolled but I am not old damnit).

My favorite example was the Harvard Law students indignant that the racist Harvard Law School hired the head of the NAACP Legal Defence Fund to teach about civil rights law. I thought that nothing good could come of that.

The result is that the Law Review had to find an African American who wasn't convinced that kowtowing to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund is racist.

His name was Barack Obama.

Something good came of that.

Since 2008, I have had a different attitude about left wing idiocy on Campus.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Tom Nichols is a libelous coward

I am having a twitter quarrel with @radiofreeTom. It began with this tweet

I suggested that we ask Hans Blix if Saddam Hussein cooperated with him.

Nichols says it doesn't matter what Blix says, because Blix lied.

So he does not consider the UN inspectors to have a voice in the debate on cooperation with the UN inspectors. I think he has no basis for his accusation against Blix which is pure calumny.

I also note that he insists he is right but wont accept a bet in which I offer him 100 to 1 odds.

I conclude that he is a coward as well as a libeler.

Also he is clearly incapable of understanding what I wrote and unwilling to rethink.

I conclude that he does not have and has never had anything useful to contribute to the debate on the invasion of Iraq.

I finally note that i am typing in Italy and must be able to prove my claims to avoid civil and criminal liability.

update: In case anyone is interested, this is the first thing I wrote on the then prospective invasion of Iraq

anyone who reads it will note that I assumed Saddam Hussein had WMD. That means I assumed he was not complying with UN security council resolution 1441. I also argued that WMD in Iraq were an excellent reason NOT to invade Iraq. I stand by that argument. Invading Iraq was a mistake. I think that if there had been WMD it would have been a worse mistake.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trump says AHCA is "Mean"

One source said Trump called the House bill “mean, mean, mean” and said, “We need to be more generous, more kind.” The other source said Trump used a vulgar phrase to describe the House bill and told the senators, “We need to be more generous.”
I think this "vulgar phrase" baryard metaphor is slang-term-for-reproductive-act-ing idiotic. But I do think the unsurprising news about Trumps constancy is of some relevance. The Senators at the meeting were forcibly reminded that, if they vote for the modified AHCA, Trump will stab them in the back. It will be even more horribly unpopular when its effects are felt than it is now (it's polling 17-25% approval). Trump will denounce the bill if he ever signs it. If a bill passes, his line will be that it was a horrible horrible bill written by "mean" idiots in Congress, but he had to sign it because Obamacare was collapsing. This will make the cost of voting yes even higher than it otherwise would be (and do nothing for Trump who won't convince anyone but his fanatic fans and isn't up for election in 2018 anyway). Of course it is obvious that Trump throws people under the bus carrying the wolves after stabbing them in the back. But a vivid reminder at a critical moment can't hurt.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Boring Comment on Kabaservice

Have I come up with a title less attractive than "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative" ? I certainly don't expect anyone to read this post. Also I advixe against reading it -- it is a waste of time.

I am commenting on this op-ed "The Great Performance of Our Failing President". My first thoughts are that it is too kind to Trump and displays shocking ignorance of history (Kabaservice is a historian who's op-ed harshly condemns Trump). My later thoughts are about me, myself, Robert Waldmann and my reactions to the conventions of the essay (or more exactly the op-ed).

I got stuck for many minutes objecting to this sentence

President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

I think it is both appallingly vague and clearly false. Before typing on, I want to start with myself. I understand that the passage is a to be sure passage

1) it's role in the essay is to avoid monotony.

2) The denunciation of Trump is made more interesting by suggesting that promise was betrayed.

3) Kabaservice is trying to prove that he isn't a knee jerk Trumpaphobic by noting some appeal of Trump.

4) Exactly because Kabaservice is conceding a tiny bit to Trump supporters here, he doesn't feel any need to be careful in the claim. It is a concession. It isn't really an assertion he is making in his voice.

As often, I find myself fiercely objecting to a "to be sure" passage. I fear that this would give the impression that I am a rigid doctrinaire extremist (but only if anyone reads my blog posts -- so I'm OK). But I do object. In particular, I object to the convention that assertinos in "to be sure" passages don't have to be both meaningful and accurate. I see no reason to allow meaningless or false claims to be made in any context. To be sure, it may be useful to note invalid arguments before refuting them. However, in that case, I think it is necessary to find and quote someone else making the invalid argument. In any case, one can use the subjunctive. One might argue "one might argue that ..." before knocking down the straw man.

OK back to Kabaservice. I object to the vague words "few" and "address". I think they are used in order to write words which appear to amount to a claim, but which don't actually assert anything. I would really like to ask "how few ? Do you mean fewer than 10 ? How about fewer than 10,000 ? OK I guess the set of "politicians" is not defined (candidates for office ? so not Reince Priebus but including candidates for shcool boards) so do you mean fewer than 1% ? fewer than 10% ? I am quite sure that Kbaservice doesn't mean any of these things. I am quite sure he doesn't mean anything. He wishes to assert that there is something notable about Trump's choice "to address" those problems without making any quantitative claim precise or vague. No number of examples of other policians doing the same refutes the claim, because "few" has no firm meaning.

Now how about "address". What does this mean ? A narrow definition would be to describe with some accuracy and propose a solution or, at lease, a melioration. By that definition, Trump did not address the issues. I'm not even sure he mentioned opiates at all, except for noting the smuggling of opiates over the border. As far as I know, he didn't mention the role of prescription opiates in the crisis. It is central. I don't think he showed any sign of knowing what areas are hardest hit by the drug epidemic. In contrast he, falsely, claimed that the crime rate was at an unprecedentely high level. Of course he didn't propose any plausible solution.

In contrast, Clinton specifically discussed the opiate crisis (noting that she kept hearing about it -- she listened to ordinary people as Trump did not). I'm reasonable confident that her issues page includes reasonable proposals to deal with the problem (and totally sure that I won't check and that almost no one else did).

Clearly Sanders addressed the problem of health care costs. Clinton supported the ACA which actually did a lot about it. As noted in the next paragraph, when elected, Trump supported the AHCA which reduces funding for dealing with drug addiction and massively shifts the burden of health care costs to the non-wealthy.

So how would I rewrite the offending sentence ? I feel the need to try to explain how Trump got elected (I can't help it). I'd note a few things. One is Trump's extreme dishonesty and arrogance helped him. He just promised that he would solve the problems. Honest people feel the need to give some hint of an explanation of how they would fulfil a promise. I think it is clear that a lot of voters are willing to believe promises based on no argument or explanation. I think also that Trump's anger helped him appeal to angry people. Finally, angry people want a change. Only once since 1948 has a party won 3 presidential elections in a row. But I don't think it has anything to do with Trump addressing the issues (he didn't if the word is defined narrowly enough that anyone didn't address the issues) or with Democratic politicians failing to address the issues.

I also object to this ahistorical bullshit.

Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them,

Bill clinton never compelled Congress. He tried to compel congress to reform health care and failed. Part of the problem is that he was unpopular. At this point of his presidency Clinton was about as unpopular as Trump is. Later he signed bills which dramatically changed things. But he didn't compel Congress -- they were right wing Republican initiatives. Clinton reluctantly went along with them. After 1994, Congress was leading and Clinton was following. Finally, after failing to compel congress then bending to Congress's will, Clinton became very popular. Claims about Clinton in the passage are all false. Kabaservice is a historian. I am 100% sure he knows they are false. I think he has chosen to repeat the conventional wisdom which he knows to be false.

Reagan did compel congress to cut taxes and increase defence spending. However, that's about it. He also later bent to Congress's will and signed a huge tax increase. He also followed Kemp and Bradley and accepted the 1986 tax reform (after demonstrating that he had no clue about the contents of the draft bill). It is true that he pushed things through congress (with a Democratic majority in the House) during his first years. So the claims about Reagan aren't all false. However, he wasn't especially popular then ( his approval rating declined unusually quickly and Republicans were hammered in the 1982 mid terms). I am old enough to remember. The popularity came later (mostly long after he left office).

The passage is ahistorical conventional wisdom. It is shocking that a historian wrote it.

But aside from that, I think the op-ed is an excellent essay.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

My Sources Tell me that in the Closed Session Comey Said he has proof Trump is a Russian agent and a Lizard person

COTTON: “Do you believe Donald Trump colluded with Russia?”

COMEY: “It’s a question I don’t think I should answer in open session.”

Sen Cotton has a degree from Harvard Law, where they didn't teach him to never ask a question unless he knows how the witness will answer.

I don't think Comey is going to tell the committee in closed session that he knows of no evidence that Trump colluded.

I am confident enough that if I were a reporter I would be tempted to fudge a scoop with a made up source.

But you aren't supposed to report that something was said in closed session before the closed session starts.

I know, that's why I am waiting to hit the publish key.

Damnit I flinched.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

I jest McCain't stand all this Sasse talk

I was already worried that I'g starting to like Ben Sasse more than I want anyone to like a conservative Republican when I saw this tweet
Then Josh Marshall wrote this one "I'd almost vote for him just for this tweet" I am genuinely worried. That boy's gonna be dangerous when he grows up.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Totally twitty Chait hate

I admire Jonathan Chait. In particular, I admire his denunciation of those (e.g. Barack Obama) who criticize "some in my party" without naming names. His rule is that if one criticizes an argument, position or view, one should name and quote someone. Otherwise the temptation to debate straw men is irresistable. This fits Chait's general (confessed) inclination to be mean -- he doesn't mind criticizing people by name.

I often think of Chait's rule and, when attemting to enforce it use the phrase "two minutes Chait" (rhymes with "two minutes hate").

His recent post "This Won't end Well for House Republicans" caused me to advocate (in comments) a much more extreme rule. I argue that commentators should never paraphrase or quote indirectly. I think a good rule would be that all references to anything written or said by anyone must be of the form of a direct quotation followed (if necessary) by an argument that the person really means something other that what they apparently just said.

I think that allowing paraphrases and indirect quotations makes the temptation to, say, claim that Al Gore said he invented the internet, irresistable.

My example is Chait himself. He wrote

Nancy Pelosi once said that Congress had to pass the Affordable Care Act in order to find out what was in it. Republican demagogues pretended Pelosi was confessing to having hidden the details of her bill until its passage, but, as anybody who read the context of her remarks could see, that is not what she meant. Pelosi was dismissing the bill’s bad polling as an artifact of public ignorance. The law’s individual provisions were highly popular, and she believed the law, once functioning, would gain public support, because it would help far more people than it harmed.

I commented

Often I bore myself. Here by grinding a very old ax. You are right to criticize Republican demagogues for misleading people about what Pelosi meant. But you misquoted her. According to Matt Yglesias (who I trust because he presents a direct quote with, you know, quotation marks) she said "“We have to pass the bill, so that you can find out what is in it — away from the fog of the controversy.” She was not confessing that she belonged to a group which didn't know what was in it. She was saying that other people (who were attending the " National Association of Counties’ 2010 legislative conference" didn't know what was in it.

Your paraphrase "Congress had to pass the Affordable Care Act in order to find out what was in it." is materially false. You assert that she asserted that Congress didn't know what was in it. She did no such thing. I am honestly disappointed that, when your point is that her meaning was distorted, you used a false indirect quotation which is consistent with the misleading interpretation (and not with your interpretation).

You have a rule that, when you criticize, you name names (and quote quotes). This is a very good rule. I think you should have another rule. When you claim someone said "that" something is true, you should rewrite -- use a direct quotation. The case of Nancy Pelosi who didn't say that Congress had to pass the bill to know what was in it (like the case of Al Gore who didn't claim to have invented the internet) demonstrates to me that indirect quotations and paraphrases have no legitimate useful role in the political debate.

They are often used to mislead (or to lie as in the cases of Pelosi and Gore). Pixels will be killed if you stick to quoting and then interpreting rather than suppressing the exact words and paraphrasing. But I think that you can't be trusted to paraphrase again. I recommend that all political commentators (including you) stick to direct quotations only from now on.

here I add that Pelosi isn't entirely an innocent victim. She was too polite to be accurate. The word "can" implies that her audience couldn't find out what was in the bill even with diligence. I am sure that what she believed was "since you can't be bothered to read the bill (it's only 2000 pages long) and believe Republican lies about it, we will have to pass the bill to force you to find out what is in it". But she is a politician, so she automatically assured people that they weren't at all to blame for their ignorance. Her statement was false. At the time people could find out what was in the bill. It just would require a totally disproportionate effort. The claim that they couldn't (implied by the "can") was a claim that the contents of the bill were hidden, not just long and boring.

That Republicans and "dozens of political journalists who should have known better" argued that she had confessed that the contents of the bill were hidden is outrageous. It is a demonstrable fact that the bill wasn't hidden. The debate over the bill was public and extremely detailed. Only people to lazy to check could believe that the details were hidden. The case demonstrates that "dozens of political journalists" are too lazy to do their jobs.

Similarly, Al Gore's claim "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." was 100% accurate. It does not imply he claimed he invented anything (the word doesn't appear). It does imply that he claims that the internet was originally a US government project funded by Congress & that he was a congressman who took the initiative of pushing for funding. Also that the transition to a new sector of the private economy was managed by a committee chaired by Al Gore.

Now what could possibly be gained by allowing people to paraphrase to, for a hypothetical example, [Al Gore claimed he invented the internet] ? Very few pixels are saved. The meaning is completely distorted. Paraphrases are very useful to dishonest people.

I really think that a direct quotes only (in political debate and commentary) rule would be an improvement.

To Chait I say: "context" my ass, text would have been good enough.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Behind Blue Eyes after the Bill was Killed.

update: OK the bill came back from the dead and has now been approved by 217 representatives. At the moment Ryan isn't the sad man (although he still is fated to be telling only lies). end update.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Comments on Macroeconmics 1

This is a very closed thread for my students to comment on my course while it is in course. Comments may be posted as anonymous.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

My Advice to Macroeconomists

Take two aspirins and call me in the morning (or maybe in 100 years).

As usual, I want to talk about crude empiricism vs microfoundations. I will argue that we should look at what has been tried in the past and whether it seems to have worked. This means I think we should not just keep our heads to down and to the grind-stone working on microeconomics until we have done it right and only then dare to attempt to advise policy makers. I have nothing against empirical microeocomic research, but I think this question is whether there are macroeconomists who have something useful to say even before the empirical microeconomics research program is completed.

I want to consider an example from another field of research -- aspirin. For all of human history, it has been reported that the roots of willows contain an analgesic. I do mean this literally -- it was reported by Herodotus. The pain killer was purified and named salycilic acid. There were three problems -- its mechanism of action (microfoundation) was completely mysterious, it caused ulcers, and it tasted horrible. The third problem was crucial, but it was solved roughly a century ago by the same reaction which gave us heroin Acetylation. Now we have access to Aceto Salyclic Acid AKA aspirin. Decades later, the mechanism was understood. Aspirin blocks synthesis of a number of molecules collectively called prostaglandins.

Now the research which explained aspirin's effect was worthwhile (well worth the real Nobel prize that was awarded). But there was no reason to refuse to take aspirin and suffer when its side effects were known but its mechanism was mysterious.

The micro (in this case nano) reasearch was useful. It made it possible to develop other non steroid anti-inflamatories. Importantly, it was understood that there were two related moelecules one of which caused inflamation, feaver and tenderness and the other of which caused the stomach and small intestine to releqase mucouse to protect themselves. This scientific research, followed by a massive controlled trial, lead to the availability of Vioxx and over 50,000 deaths.

I think the example is relevant for those who wonder if macroeconomists should stick with tried and true models (not of couse the academic literature dominatinng tried and false models) for a good long while.

Of course the old Keynesian models have their empirical failures. Such as ... uhm well not the stagflation of the 70s which was consistent with the expectations augmented Phillips curve used by the old Keynesians throughout the 1960s (starting with Samuelson and Solow 1960) but, well there was the failure to consider the hypothesis that there is Ricardian equivalence which is implied by almost all mroe modern models and supported by no data of which I am aware at all.

Well I am sure that there must have been something badly wrong with those models which were abandoned before I took my first economics course.

But seriously, I know of no difference between using those models and using aspirin in the 1960s.

Buchanan Smith and Krugman

Mark Buchanan and Noah Smith discuss what is wrong with Macroeconomics.

I think it is best to just click and read, but I particularly like two points

Buchanan: ... In 20-plus years writing about science, I've studied research in physics, biology, chemistry, psychology, anthropology and always found, after looking closely enough, that the models people use in these fields are usually well-motivated, make basic logical sense and get rejected if they don't fit the facts very well. Macroeconomics has been the one exception.


Smith: ... I think the biggest problem with macro is that models never get thrown in the trash. Researchers pump out theory paper after theory paper, most of which contradict each other. Sometimes we see a big, spectacular event like the 2008 crisis, which just couldn't happen in any of the popular, dominant, or Nobel-winning models. But then macroeconomists just pull some obscure 20-year-old paper off the shelf and say "Of course macro can explain this." Macro theory is sort of like a big collective effort to cover all the bases, not to find which models really work and which don't.

So if people criticize macro by saying to add this or that feature, they’ll do what you ask. But the papers will just sit on the shelves, and when it comes time to make policy, people pick and choose the theories that suit their preconceptions.

I do think that Smith makes a very important point. It is what he discussed (brilliantly do click this link) here "We will continue using this falsified theory to 'organize our thoughts'" and what I had in mind when I typed "benchmarks" (twice).

As Noah notes, the problem is fundamental. Macroeconomists act like scientists -- we develop hypotheses, infer testable predictions, test them, reject them and then come up with new models which fit the data which rejected the old hypothesis. But the rejected hypothesis becomes a model and then a benchmark model and many macroeconomists

"keep treating it as if it were true. So ... will continue to make highly questionable policy recommendations. The fact that this theory is such a simple, clear, well-understood tool - so good for "organizing our thinking", even if it doesn't match reality - will keep it in use long after its sell-by date.

On the other hand, i don't think macroeconomists have attempted to cover all bases. Smith fears that any data which contradict the benchmark model used to "organize our thinking" and to make confident policy recommenations can be reconciles with some off the shelf macro model which is put right back on the shelf as soon as people stop pointing at those data. He is right that this is what macroeonomists do. However, we have not covered all bases. I think it is easy to find stylized facts which are not consistent with any macro model in the literature. I think it is important that Noah knows lots of troublesome facts are just ignored. He wrote "Sometimes we see a big, spectacular event like the 2008 crisis, which just couldn't happen in any of the popular, dominant, or Nobel-winning models." The point is that the dodge is only required when the failure of all the popular models is "spectacular".

I really want to focus on a hint of an interesting debate between Smith and Krugman here in

Recently, more top macroeconomists are taking a hard look at the data to figure out how consumers and companies really behave -- for example, how businesses make decisions about setting prices and hiring or firing workers.


Note that this is the opposite of what a lot of macro critics are suggesting. Some, like Paul Krugman, advocate the use of very simple, old models, which are easy to use and interpret (especially in times of crisis). Others suggest tossing out the idea of individual decision-making as the foundation of macro models.

Noah concludes that Smith is right "The biggest challenge right now for macro is to move toward more realistic micro, using data as a guide. "

But there is a problem. Not all economists are macroeconomists. IO economists have tried to study how firms set prices and labor economists have tried to study labor demand. A practical form of Smith's proposal would be that macroeconomists should use the actual results of micro research and not microfound on decades old theories which have been rejected by the data. However, the actual proposal is that macroeconomists should first beat microeconomists in their own fields and then build macro models on the newly secured battlefield. Importantly Noah doesn't argue that there are perfectly good models of price setting in the empirical IO literature and macroeconomists just have to adopt them. Instead he proposes that we start to attempt to do empirical IO. But people have been working on that for decades. They aren't as numerous as macroeconomists, and they haven't made as little progress, but the history of that field doesn't suggest that the questions could be answered soon if they were just asked.

In constrast, Krugman's proposal is no good, because ... why ?

I wrote "an interesting debate," but not, I think, a fundamentally important debate. There is no reason why macroeconomists can't work on empirical microeconomics while also using old Keynesian models for forecasting and policy advice. Now one might argue that it would be better not to give advice until we have decent models based on empirical microeconomics. This would be true if macroeconomists forecasts were reliably worse than those of non-economists (indeed I am glad that Prescott who said that the then current problems were no big deal in early 2009 and Lucas who claimed to know that public investment couldn't cause increased nominal aggregate demand are not actively contributing to the policy debate).

It is not a sensible criticism of Krugman. I think it is clear that old Keynesian models are useful, beceause they give better forecasts and conditional forecasts than the judgment of non economists.

I have nothing against empirical micro research. Trying to understand price setting, hiring, firing and sayving decisions is worthwhile as pure social science in any case. But the idea that macroeconomists should be microeconomists for a while (how many decades ?) ignores that fact that policy makers are making horrible mistakes, and that (some) macroeconomists have reliably warned in advance that they are mistakes.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


I am an atheist, but I try to be open minded. Also, I am drunk out of my mind. So I am going to discuss what I think God Migh Conceivably Be if He/She or It Existed.

I do not claim that the evidence supports atheism. It is a faith, just as religions are faiths. Those with no faith are agnostics.

Howeever, I think it is proven beyond all doubt that there is no God who is Benevolent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient. The world is not ideal. St Augustine says there must be evil because there must be free will, because agents without free will lack something or other. I don't believe we have free will. But in any case, Hurricane Katrina sure didn't have free will. Things which clearly don't have free will act in a way which is morally wrong. Any God that might exist has no excuse for earthquakes and such.

For decades, I have lived off the fact that some behavioral economist put my name on 4 of their articles, so I must focus on this omniscience business. Could God be benevolent and omnipotent but ignorant and confused ? Give me a break. I don't believe in rational expectations any more than I believe in God, but the most idiotic and irrational deity has to understand that earthquakes hurt living things and that rocks don't enjoy the relief of their tension.

OK so we have to look at benevolence and omnipotence. Oddly, I actually believe in a benevolent God. I call him The moral Law (his friend call him morla). This is the embodiment of all that is good. Unfortunately, the moral law is not omnipotent or indeed potent at all. It tries to tell us what we should do, but can't get the words out because it (sadly) has no tongue (or lips or teeth or lungs or voice box).It sreams things which should be obvious (such as don't vote for Trump you moron) but its screams are silent.

Sometimes (such as on the morning of November 9 2016) I wonder if their might be two deities. The totally utterlessly powerless moral law and the Omipotent Nasty Bastard Who is Just Fucking with us. Now I must admit that This Divine Asshole has a Sense of Humor. If I wanted to Humiliate the USA, I wouldn't havde done such a Bang Up Fucking Impressive Job.

This means, that, if I had a religion, I would be Manichaen.

Their view as I understand it from Gibbon and just making it the fuck up is that there are two extemely powerful beings Ohrmazad (who forgives spelling errors) and Ahriman (who is gonna get me even if I spell His Name Right cause he got no clue about incentives).

Ohrmizad is very good. The Other Guy is a bad Guy Who created this vale of tears while Ohrmizad wasn't looking. This theology reconciles the idea that there is a benevolent deity with the plain fact that shit fucked up and bullshit.

In my view, the Creator of the Universe (who might be the One God if we are unlucky) has a Sick and Twisted Sense of Humor. I think that He created us to find the ultimate abyss of idiocy. Our purpose is to become so idiotic that it is not conceivable (even for an Omniscient but Really Nasty God) to think of anything more idiotic.

I fear that once we have achieved utter idiocy, the Universew will have serve His Purpose and cease to exist. So to those who ask me if I am worried about having a hangover tomorrow, I say, what makes you think there will be a tomorrow. Can you describe a possible idiocy which hasn't occurred some time since November 7 2016 ? If you can, I'll plan for the future. But I can't, so I will have another drink.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Marking My Beliefs To Market

One of the many admireable things which Brad DeLong does is to mark his beliefs to market. I decided to do a bit of that. I realize that one very hard step is to find the markable beliefs. I decided to google [prediction] and got a few (including that Kerry would win in 2004).

Usually I use the word to refuse to make a prediction (especially after 2004) but I found a few.

1) UK violent crime

Kevin Drum has written a lot about the lead causes crime hypothesis. I believe it was proposed by someone at the EPA in the 1990s a very few years after the peak of the US murder rate. I consider myself an early supporter (about as early as Drum even if much less industrious).

In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008

I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007

I'd say the prediction worked out pretty well.

2) TARP cost

Again and again, I predicted that the CBO forecast cost of TARP was higher than the expected cost of TARP and that the forecast would be reduced. I think the first time I did this was September 18 2010

Again and again I was right. The books were (roughly) closed with a reported non cost of over $15 billion of profit.

This predition worked out pretty well too.

3) PPIP cost

On a much more minor issue, I predicted that the Public Private investment Partnerships wouldn't coast the US government, and in particular the FDIC, much money. This is interesting mainly because I challenged Joe Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and (I just learn) Jeff Sachs. The books have been closed. The Treasury made a positive return of $ 3.9 billion. The rate of return was vastly greater than the rate the Treasury pays. Even assuming the 3.9 was earned all at the end the return would be 3.9/18.6 after 5.5 years so an annual rate of 3.5% compared to the Treasury 5 year rate of oh around zero.

4) Hmm turns out I predicted that Marco Rubio would not be the GOP nominee.

5) Huh it seems I predicted that George Bush would offer to nominate Patrick Fitzgerald to the Supreme Court and that he did in fact do so. Either or both of my prediction and this alleged Fitzgerald e-mail might be jokes.

à 6) Effectiveness of Quantitative Easing. This is tricky, because while I actually became a tiny bit known as a skeptic (I was actually interviewed by a journalist once) I flinched and said Abenomics had worked. Also I tended to argue that QE based on purchases of risky assets would work better than QE based on purchases of long term bonds. I think my first foray into QE skepticism was this on February 26 2011 . See also this. But I tend to claim some success. I am pretty sure I was relatively skeptical of QE. There were critics who thought it would work too well and cause hyperinflation, but I am fairly sure I was fairly far out towards the most extreme position of saying it wouldn't have much effect. This not really stuck to prediction is working out rather well.