Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Kind Of Day Has It Been

International
  • Berlusconi against Libya before he was for it before he was against it. Notably, NATO is flying its missions out of Italy and from Italian airbases. 
  • Saleh appeared delusional (and injured) on Yemeni television even as he remains in Saudi Arabia, and his complicated country slips further from his regime's grip.

Domestic
  • Nate Silver has an excellent statistical examination of the radicalization of the Republican party and the emergence of its structural inability to compromise. What Silver calls "conservative," Gene Lyons rightly notes is really an "anti-government cult."
  • Then again, POTUS described today's debt talks as very constructive.
  • Fox News has proved its mettle, its conviction to open debate, by trying to gin-up controversy over Media Matters 501(c)(3) status. This is likely to go nowhere. Query: does a judicial proceeding (quasi- or otherwise) that is built on manufactured, unmeritorious claim that is patently politically motivated--worse, an example of "I'll just take my ball and go home"--qualify as a frivolous lawsuit? Jon Stewart does this bit well.
  • Stigletz considers the dangers of unfettered free market zealotry.

16 comments:

Colin said...

Stiglitz:

Even in its heyday, from the early 1980s until 2007, American-style deregulated capitalism brought greater material well-being only to the very richest of the richest country of the world.

Why does Stiglitz insist on saying things that are objectively not true?

As for Gene Lyons, it's rather strange that he calls the GOP an anti-government cult, but then approvingly quotes Kevin Drum who (accurately) says Republicans passed "unfunded spending increases" they wanted.

So pick your narrative. Either they are the barbarian hordes determined to slash and burn government or they are free-wheeling spenders, but they can't be both.

Ben said...

Your comment (on your blog) to Stiglitz is not exactly responsive. I imagine Stiglitz is looking at the stagnation of wages and the concentration of wealth -- at least, that would be my guess, and what I would cite for evidence of where benefits have fallen, rather than the average increase in square footage of housing (which of course would be affected by super wealthy building super large homes, among other factors).

And I'm not sure why you think your selective quote of Kevin Drum, referring to the GOP as it was, rebuts Lyon's comment about the GOP as it has become.

Colin said...

I imagine Stiglitz is looking at the stagnation of wages and the concentration of wealth...

Even if Stiglitz meant to discuss wages (and if that's what he meant, he should have flatly said so), so what? Wages are merely a means to an end -- consumption. And in terms of consumption Americans are doing better than ever no matter how you measure it: material goods, health, education -- they're all better than 30 years ago. That's really all that matters. And all thanks to free market capitalism, which Stiglitz is loathe to admit.

As for Lyons, if one really wants to believe that the GOP was a bunch of free-spenders but have morphed into anti-government zealots in the span of, what, three years, well I suppose we can all hope.

Ben said...

1. I think it's fairly odd that you, a fairly ardent defender of amassed and inherited wealth, should argue that wages are a means only to consumption.

2. You're wrong about Americans doing better in terms of consumption. Real wages have declined, savings rates (and accounts) have declined, luxuries have amassed in the top-1% of income reporters in a manner not seen since the Gilded Age, at the same time the costs of necessaries (with the exception of housing) have all increased. Lexington--a few year ago--put this better than I can.

3. If you're asking whether I think politicians on the Right are taking advantage of populism by adopting popular anti-government that has formed a vitriolic positive feedback loop, then yes.

Ben said...

This is a good piece, too.

Colin said...

I think it's fairly odd that you, a fairly ardent defender of amassed and inherited wealth, should argue that wages are a means only to consumption.

Why is that odd? All money we make is ultimately meant to be consumed. Otherwise it's just worthless pieces of paper. Invested money is nothing more than consumption delayed until a future date.

You're wrong about Americans doing better in terms of consumption.

No, sorry, that's just not true. We have more of everything as I have already demonstrated. Unless you can show that Americans are materially worse off, you have no case.

Lexington discusses social mobility and says absolutely nothing about consumption. He does, however, make some valid points about Democrats and their relationship with teacher unions.

Your second piece by Matt Steinglass also says nothing about consumption and rather focuses on inequality, which is not the same thing. Indeed, the left loves to focus on *relative* differences in prosperity rather than absolute ones because from an absolute perspective -- i.e. material well being -- they have absolutely no case. Once you admit that we are all doing better, the case for free market capitalism becomes even more undeniable.

Jason said...

"Indeed, the left loves to focus on *relative* differences in prosperity rather than absolute ones because from an absolute perspective -- i.e. material well being -- they have absolutely no case. Once you admit that we are all doing better, the case for free market capitalism becomes even more undeniable."

I'm sorry, but what? How are you measuring an improvement in "material well being?" Buying appliances improves one's material well-being? So the percentage of consumers that own computers has grown by 40%, that could have something to do with that fact that the cost of computers has dropped by a factor of 7 in the last decade. You'll not consumer ownership hasn't grown by the same rate.

What we know, beyond rate of ownership of appliances, is that real wages have been in decline since 2003. That sort of macro-level number is more impactful then the rate of Color TV ownership.

Colin said...

I'm sorry, but what? How are you measuring an improvement in "material well being?"

By stuff people own, how long they live, etc. See my link in the first comment.

Buying appliances improves one's material well-being?

Yes. Being able to store one's food is a material improvement in one's well being. So is having a machine to clean one's dishes or clothes. These are improvements in one's well-being BY DEFINITION.

So the percentage of consumers that own computers has grown by 40%, that could have something to do with that fact that the cost of computers has dropped by a factor of 7 in the last decade.

Yes, the miracle of capitalism has driven down the price of computers, thus expanding affordability and ownership rates. What is your point?

What we know, beyond rate of ownership of appliances, is that real wages have been in decline since 2003. That sort of macro-level number is more impactful then the rate of Color TV ownership.

A point I have already addressed. Wages are a means to an end. The only thing that matters is how well we live, and in that respect we are doing better than ever as I have already shown.

Colin said...

Because if you truly believe all money is to be used for consumption you'd be in favor of high inheritance taxes which would encourage spending rather than saving and investment in real property.

Wha??? I think that people should be able to do with their money as they like. If they want to delay consumption so that their children can enjoy higher consumption at a later date then fine. They made it and should be able to do with it as they like.

Unless people make their money and then set it on fire, all of it is meant to be consumed. Actually, even if the money is set on fire to provide light, warmth or just entertainment that is also consumption...

Right, they talk about the relative positions of the majority of Americans vis-a-vis the rich, the metric that Stiglitz and I are using.

Wait, can you read Stilglitz's mind? How do you know this? What we do know is that he said the "material well-being" of the vast majority of Americans has not improved. But that is simply wrong, as I have already illustrated.

Colin said...

They're not responsive to your consumption comment because your consumption comment is not responsive to Stiglitz, and yet another example of you attempting to alter the terms of the debate.

You have got to be kidding me. Go back and re-read this thread. You said: You're wrong about Americans doing better in terms of consumption. That's your quote! You bring up the subject of consumption, then link to two people who discuss inequality and say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about consumption, and now you want to accuse ME of changing the terms of the debate? WTF?

And please don't say that I am not responding to Stiglitz. Stiglitz raised the issue of *material well-being*, I responded with a US Government publication on *material well-being* that shows he doesn't know what he is talking about, and then you pretend to have a direct line to Stiglitz's brain that shows he really meant income or inequality or some such.

Colin said...

Consumption is not--in my opinion--a useful metric here.

Really? It's about as useful as it gets. You are concerned about the means, while I am concerned about the end result. Why the former is more important I have no idea.

The blown-out averages driven by consumption of luxuries by the wealthy is not.

Wrong again. The data measures percentage of households with various possessions, NOT averages. Thus this is not a case of Bill Gates walking into a bar and the average income suddenly shooting up into the millions.

Jason said...

Stiglitz says "material well-being" and that is a poor choice of words. By a measure of material well-being, all improved during the period he states. However, the rate of that improvement has been sluggish when compared to the increase in per capita GDP, which would suggest growing inequality.

If you look at quality of life measures, which should consider: material living standards, health, education, personal activities including work, political voice, relationships, the environment, and economic & physical insecurity, the picture is less clear.

That Stiglitz chose the wrong words is unfortunate, but it does not exonerate the cruel machinations of the "miracle of capitalism" which, if unregulated, can lead to greater class separation as we are observing now in the United States. And those that would demagogue any regulation, tax, transfer payment, or law that might hold enterprise accountable to the communities in which they operate should take heed our human history that invalidates the divinity and moral rightness of unfettered capitalism.

Colin said...

...cruel machinations of the "miracle of capitalism" which, if unregulated, can lead to greater class separation as we are observing now in the United States.

Two points:

* Cruel machinations of unregulated capitalism? Where are you getting this from? If unregulated capitalism is so cruel, why did the airline, rail and trucking industries perform better when they were deregulated? Why has airline safety improved since then? Why does the internet function so well with minimal government regulation? Why is it that DC, which has less regulation of its liquor stores than Virginia, where they are stated-owned, have more stores, greater variety and lower prices? Conversely, why is it those sectors where government exerts heavy regulation -- think health care and finance -- where we find some of the greatest problems? Why is it that those countries with the greatest levels of economic freedom also enjoy the greatest prosperity? Does none of this suggest a pattern?

* Imagine two countries. In one country everyone makes $20K per year, but over time incomes grow at varying rates and three distinct class bands emerge with a third of the population making $75K per year, another average $500K and another making $10 million per year.

In the other country everyone makes $20K per year in perpetuit and no class divisions emerge. Which country is preferable and why?

Colin said...

Jason, also, how do you know Stiglitz chose the wrong words? I have every reason to believe a guy of his intelligence meant exactly what he said.

Ben said...

Colin,

I agree that Stiglitz knows exactly what he's saying and meant material well-being. I think he means it in his terms, though -- different than the terms from the USG document you quote -- and more comprehensive than mere consumption.

I'm sorry, you mentioned consumption, not me. I was responding to you and meant that you're wrong to rely entirely on consumption--unclear from the initial sentence but clear based on the list I put down. I apologize for your confusion.


Also, calm down, there, guy.

Colin said...

I think he means it in his terms, though...

In the paper it states:

When evaluating material well-being, look at income and consumption rather than production

Thus, we know Stiglitz is at least half-wrong, as from a consumption perspective Americans improved significantly over the last 30 years.

With regard to income, meanwhile, a new paperhas concluded that Americans have also seen their well-being improve over the last 30 years.

So Stiglitz is at least 50% wrong, and possibly 100% wrong. And if he's wrong, then the rest of his column falls apart.