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October 2006

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition)

Yes, it's Sebastian Mallaby being an idiot once again:

A Nadir of U.S. Power - By Sebastian Mallaby: It's not exactly morning in America. In Iraq, things get ever uglier, and the old remedy of extra troops now seems tragically futile. The Bush team has recently tried putting thousands of additional soldiers into Baghdad, and the result after two months is that violence there has increased. Iraq is often seen as a special Rumsfeldian screw-up. But in Afghanistan, the Bush team quickly handed off to a model pro-Western leader backed by a broad NATO coalition. And what are the results there? The government is wobbling, warlords run drugs and the pro-al-Qaeda Taliban have 4,000 to 5,000 active fighters in the country.

It's not just military efforts that are faltering. Five years ago, President Bush launched an experiment in tough-talk diplomacy....

But traditional diplomacy is faring no better. In North Korea and Iran, the United States has tried every diplomatic trick to prevent nuclear proliferation, making common cause with Western Europe, Russia, China and Japan, and wielding both sticks and carrots. The result is failure: North Korea has tested a nuke and Iran still presses on with its enrichment program...

Ummm. No. Whatever you call what the Bush administration's policies, they have not tried "traditional diplomacy."

Mallaby continues:

Every honest politician knows that we need to quit gobbling carbon. But higher gas taxes are seen as a political non-starter on both sides of the political spectrum...

Seen as a non-starter by Al Gore?

And there is more:

[T]he right and left are pushing policies that are marginal to the country's problems. The right wants to make its tax cuts "permanent," even though the boomers' retirement ensures that taxes will have to go up. The left wants to raise the minimum wage, even though this can only help a minority of workers...

So only policies that help everyone are admissible?

The Federal Reserve Stays the Course

Felix Salmon writes:

RGE - Fed: No rate cuts in the offing?: As expected, the Fed kept rates on hold at 5.25%. But there doesn't seem to be much in the way of bearishness at the FOMC: the statement says that "going forward, the economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace". It goes on to talk about "the extent and timing of any additional firming that may be needed" -- no one at the Fed seems to be anticipating any rate cuts for the foreseeable future.

The economic forecasters seem to have a different view: their dominant view seems to be that they are expecting reality to lead the Fed to cut some in 2007.

Post-Managerial Capitalism?

Mark Thoma sends us to a good piece by Robert Samuelson:

Economist's View: The Rise and Fall of the Managerial Class: Robert Samuelson on the rise and fall of the managerial class:

The Next Capitalism, by Robert Samuelson, Newsweek: When he died in 1848, John Jacob Astor was America's richest man, leaving a fortune of $20 million that had been earned mainly from real estate and fur trading. Despite his riches, Astor's business was mainly a one-man show. He employed only a handful of workers, most of them clerks. This was typical of his time, when the farmer, the craftsman, the small partnership and the independent merchant ruled the economy. Only 50 years later, almost everything had changed. Giant industrial enterprises -- making steel, producing oil, refining sugar and much more -- had come to dominate.

The rise of big business is one of the seminal events in American history, and if you want to think about it intelligently, you consult historian Alfred D. Chandler Jr., its pre-eminent chronicler. ...

Until Chandler, the emergence of big business was all about titans. The Rockefellers, Carnegies and Fords were either "robber barons'' whose greed and ruthlessness allowed them to smother competitors and establish monopolistic empires. Or they were "captains of industry'' whose genius and ambition laid the industrial foundations for modern prosperity. But ... Chandler ... uncovered a more subtle story. New technologies (the railroad, telegraph and steam power) favored the creation of massive businesses that needed -- and, in turn, gave rise to -- superstructures of professional managers: engineers, accountants and supervisors.

It began with railroads. In 1830, getting from New York to Chicago took three weeks. By 1857, the trip was three days (and we think the Internet is a big deal). From 1850 to 1900, track mileage went from 9,000 to 200,000. But railroads required a vast administrative apparatus to ensure the maintenance of "locomotives, rolling stock, and track'' -- not to mention scheduling trains, billing and construction...

Elsewhere, the story was similar. ... No matter how efficient a plant might be, it would be hugely wasteful if raw materials did not arrive on time or if the output couldn't be quickly distributed and sold. Managers were essential; so were statistical controls. Coordination and organization mattered. Companies that surmounted these problems succeeded. ... The rise of big business involved more than tycoons. Its central feature was actually the creation of professional managers. ...

The trouble now is that the defining characteristics of Chandler's successful firms have changed. ... We can ... identify many of the forces reshaping business: new technologies, globalization and modern finance... But the very multitude of trends and pressures is precisely the problem. No one has yet synthesized them and given them larger meaning.

Just as John Jacob Astor defined a distinct stage of capitalism, we may now be at the end of what Chandler perceptively called "managerial capitalism.'' Managers, of course, won't disappear. But the new opportunities and pressures on them and their companies may have altered the way the system operates. ... Asked about how the corporation might evolve, [Chandler] confesses ignorance: "All I know is that the ... Internet is transforming the world.'' To fill that void, someone must do for capitalism's next stage what Chandler did for the last...

And Mark Thoma comments:

Though it's mentioned, I don't think this pays enough attention to the role of information technology in reducing the need for middle management and white collar workers. Much of what these workers did in the past to track financial information, manage inventory and raw materials, plan distribution and sales strategies, and so on can now be done with a few mouse clicks on a computer or, alternatively, digitally outsourced for cheaper processing elsewhere.

This is not fundamentally different from any other sort of productivity shock, workers get displaced by new technology regularly, except that in recent years there are more white collars in the mix of workers affected by the technological innovation, a trend that may continue as information technology continues to advance. The question is where these displaced workers (or those who would have replaced them in future years) end up after the transition. Will these workers be able to transform their skills and move up to higher paying occupations or at least maintain their current income, or will the displaced current and future workers mostly move down to lower skill, lower paying jobs?

Given the outcome so far, we need to devote more attention to finding policies that can help workers receive a larger share of the productivity gains as we move to an increasingly information-based, geographically fractured, low-skill abundant, highly specialized, and highly competitive global economy. I'm not sure what fancy name to give "the next capitalism" or if it really needs one, but if growing inequality continues to be one of its main features, calling it "the new gilded age" as many do already might just stick.

Two for One Bonus: Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Liar?/Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

Stay the Course:

Michael Froomkin writes: 'Stay The Course': The 'Stay the Course' video. Much better than news stories that miss the point. Incredible that the NYT story doesn't even mention that Bush claimed "we've never been stay the course" and instead just ran with the White House line that they were changing the rhetoric...

Yep, Michael is right. Here are New York Times reporters Jim Rutenberg and David Cloud, showing that they are incapable of shame or honesty:

Bush Abandons Phrase 'Stay the Course' on Iraq - New York Times: WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 — The White House said Monday that President Bush was no longer using the phrase “stay the course” when speaking about the Iraq war, in a new effort to emphasize flexibility in the face of some of the bloodiest violence there since the 2003 invasion.

“He stopped using it,” said Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. “It left the wrong impression about what was going on and it allowed critics to say, ‘Well, here’s an administration that’s just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,’ when, in fact, it is the opposite.”

Mr. Bush used the slogan in a stump speech on Aug. 31, but has not repeated it for some time. Still, Mr. Snow’s pronouncement was a stark example of the complicated line the White House is walking this election year in trying to tag Democrats as wanting to “cut and run” from Iraq, without itself appearing wedded to unsuccessful tactics there...

I've said that I don't think the Washington Post will last a decade, given its extraordinary sins against the gods of honest journalism. Will the New York Times last a decade? Not with reporters like these.

It's not even the case that brownie points for writing stories pleasing to Tony Snow are worth much anymore.

Dummies for Dummies

Matthew Yglesias watches Easterbrook in action, as Easterbrook makes his play for the title of Stupidest Life Form Alive:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: Statistics for Dummies: Greg Easterbrook:

I suspect one reason the Iraq death toll elicits so little concern is that exaggerated estimates exist. Americans can say of the exaggerated estimates, "Oh, that's way too high" and skip over thinking about the more probable numbers. The latest silly estimate comes from a new study in the British medical journal Lancet, which absurdly estimates that since March 2003 exactly 654,965 Iraqis have died as a consequence of American action. The study uses extremely loose methods of estimation, including attributing about half its total to "unknown causes." The study also commits the logical offense of multiplying a series of estimates, then treating the result as precise. White House officials have dismissed the Lancet study, and they should. It's gibberish.

Well, no. That is not it at all. The authors used a statistical method that, as they perfectly well knew, doesn't generate especially precise results. That's why when they calculated the confidence interval for their estimate it turned out to be rather wide. The 654,965 number is the middle point of the confidence interval. The true number could very easily be thousands higher or lower than that, but the true number is extremely likely to fall somewhere within the band they laid out. This isn't hard stuff, and it certainly isn't gibberish.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

CEO Compensation

Andrew Samwick wrestles with the problems of CEO compensation and with Paul Krugman:

Vox Baby: Mixed Reviews for Krugman Today: In "Incentives for the Dead" (reposted by Mark Thoma for those of you without TimesSelect), Paul Krugman addresses the social and economic aspects of option backdating and repricing. He gets some things right--this is accounting fraud, it is also tax evasion, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted fully. But he gets some of the economic aspects wrong. Consider:

[W]e need to go back to the original ideological justification for giant executive paychecks.In the 1960's... C.E.O.'s of the largest firms were paid... about 40 times as much as the average worker. But executives wanted more -- and professors at business schools provided a theory... a chief executive who expects to receive the same salary if his company is highly profitable that he will receive if it just muddles along won't be willing to take risks and make hard decisions. "Corporate America," declared an influential 1990 article by Michael Jensen of the Harvard Business School and Kevin Murphy of the University of Southern California, "pays its most important leaders like bureaucrats. Is it any wonder then that so many C.E.O.'s act like bureaucrats?"

Jensen and Murphy's article... provides a theory to justify higher pay-performance sensitivities....[O]bviously, nothing in Jensen and Murphy's paper justifies backdating or repricing--quite the contrary.

Krugman continues:

The claim, then, was that executives had to be given more of a stake in their companies' success. And so corporate boards began giving C.E.O.'s lots of stock options -- the right to purchase a share of the company's stocks at a fixed price, usually the market price on the day the option was issued. If the stock went up, these options would pay off.... [E]xecutives would have the incentive to do whatever it took to push the stock price up. In the 1990's, executive stock options proliferated -- and executive pay soared, rising to 367 times the average worker's pay by the early years of this decade. But the truth was that in many -- perhaps most -- cases, executive pay still had little to do with performance. For one thing, the great bull market of the 1990's meant that even companies that didn't do especially well saw their stock prices rise.

The last sentence continues to be something of a mystery in the economics literature--why don't we see more relative performance evaluation? Fair enough.... But the statement just prior to it is extremely misleading.... [T]he data suggest a more limited role for options in generating large pay-performance sensitivities.... Among CEOs, the median incentives received from options are roughly the same as the median incentives received from direct holdings of stock.... I think Krugman is overstating the link between Jensen and Murphy's paper--or any economic theory--and the particular way that options have been used in compensation contracts....

So my revision of Krugman's argument, at least as it pertains to the economics, is... that there was too little bait on the hook to begin with.... CEOs have been pushing their boards of directors to grant them pay increases, the tax code and accounting regulations have favored options as the easiest and most advantageous way to do that, and corporate boards have acquiesced.

Ultimately, all problems of corporate governance derive from inadequate monitoring of the managers by the shareholders. Corporate boards are supposed to do this. Some are obviously failing.

Three comments:

First, at-the-money options do not make CEOs "long" their company as much as long the volatility of their company. It's clear that direct ownership of stock--ideally, restricted stock--is a better mechanism for aligning managers' interests with shareholders.

Second, when I looked at the data I thought I saw an important difference between entrepreneurial-CEO-owners (like Bill Gates, with stock) and manager-CEO-nonowners (with options). I think there is an important difference.

Third, we do have a big organizational problem here. We need diversity of ownership--both to raise capital on the scale required for modern business organizations and to spread risk. But once you have diversified ownership, monitoring and supervising managers becomes a public good from the shareholders' perspective, and it is very hard to get market or market-like or indeed voting political mechanisms to adequately supply public goods: the difficulties of collective action by dispersed owners of corporations has been one of the institutional flaws of modern capitalism for more than a century.

The fear today is that mechanisms of corporate control and governance that used to constrain the ability of top managers to raid the corporation have broken down even more than in the past. Why and how much and indeed whether this is true is a very hard question. To say that "corporate boards are failing" to do their job is true, but leaves the questions of why they are failing and whether they are failing any more than in the past unanswered.

Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

Memo to self: Maybe I should make my graduate students buy this?

Joseph Williams (1990), Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (Chicago: University of Chicago: 0226899152).

Most books on how to write better English are pretty near to useless. Many of them scare you into worrying that you might use "which" when you should use "that" (never mind that an extra "which" never caused any reader the smallest bit of confusion). Others demand that you strive for "clarity" or "brevity" or "coherence"--but then somehow never provide any useful advice on just how, exactly, to do so.

Joseph Williams's Style: Toward Clarity and Grace is an exception. It is the only truly useful book on English prose style that I have ever found. Even Strunk and White cannot compete with the quality of the advice that Williams gives. Perhaps more important, the advice that Williams gives can be used. As Williams puts it, his aim is to go "beyond platitudes." Advice like "'Be clear' is like telling me to 'Hit the ball squarely.' I know that. What I don't know is how to do it." Williams tells us how to do it.

Williams's advice is particularly useful because it is reader based. Most books on style are rule-based: follow these rules and you will be a good writer. Williams recognizes that clear writing is writing that makes the reader feel clear about what he or she is reading. This difference in orientation makes Williams's advice much more profound: he has a theory of why the rules are what they are (and what to do when the rules conflict) that books that focus on rules alone lack.

His advice starts at the level of the sentence. Williams believes that readers find sentences easy to read and understand when the logic of the thought follows the logic of the sentence: the subjects of sentences should be the actors, and the verbs of the sentence should be the crucial actions. The beginning of a sentence should look back and connect the reader with the ideas that have been mentioned before. The end of the sentence should look forward, and is the place to put new ideas and new information.

His advice continues at the level of the paragraph. The sentences that make up a paragraph should have consistent topics. New topics and new themes should be found at the end of a paragraph's introductory sentence (or sentences). Readers will find a paragraph to be coherent if it has one single articulate summary sentence, which is almost always found either at the end of the paragraph or as the last of the paragraph's introductory sentences.

His advice concludes with four chapters on being concise, on figuring out the appropriate length, on being elegant, and on using constructions that do not jar the reader. I think that these last four chapters are less successful than the other chapters of the book. They contain much sound advice. But the argument of the book becomes more diffuse. The first six chapters present and illustrate overarching organizing principles for achieving clarity, coherence, and cohesion. The last four chapters present long lists of things to try to do. (However, the fangs-bared attack on "pop grammarians" found in the last chapter is fun to read.)

So, gentle reader, if you want to become a better writer of English, go buy and work through this book. I, at least, have never found a better.

A Sampling of Williams's Principles:

  • Readers are likely to feel that they are reading prose that is clear and direct when the subjects of the sentences name the cast of characters.
  • Readers are likely to feel that they are reading prose that is clear and direct when the verbs that go with those subjects name the crucial actions those characters are part of.
  • Put at the beginning of a sentence those ideas that you have already mentioned, referred to, or implied, or concepts that you can reasonably assume your reader is already familiar with, and will readily recognize.
  • Put at the end of your sentence the newest, the most surprising, the most significant information: information that you want to stress--perhaps the information that you will expand on in your next sentence.
  • When you introduce a technical term, design the sentence it appears in so that you can locate that term at the end, in its stress, never at the beginning, in its topic.
  • The topic of a sentence is its psychological subject--the idea we announce in the first frew words. A cohesive paragraph has consistent topic strings.
  • A cohesive paragraph has consistent thematic strings.
  • A cohesive paragraph introduces new topic and thematic strings in a predictable position: at the end of the sentence or sentences that introduce the paragraph.
  • A coherent paragraph will usually have a single sentence that clearly articulates its point.
  • A coherent paragraph will typically locate that point sentence in one of two places: as the last of the sentences that introduce the paragraph, or at the end of the paragraph.

Econ 210a: Fall 2006: Trade and the Industrious Revolution Major Headings

Oct. 25. Trade and the Industrious Revolution:

Avner Greif (1989), "Reputation and Coalitions in Medieval Trade: Evidence on the Maghribi Traders," Journal of Economic History 49:4 (December), pp. 857-882

  • How is "trade without law" possible?
  • How much "trade without law" can there be?
  • What would Ronald Coase say about this situation?
  • Are game-theoretic models of these kinds of interactions adequate?
    • What if you have no insular, despised ethnic group around?

J. Bradford DeLong and Andrei Shleifer (1993), "Princes and Merchants: City Growth Before the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Law and Economics 36:5 (Oct), pp. 671-702

  • Why isn't monarchy good enough?
    • Hobbes called it "Leviathan"
    • Mancur Olson called it a "stationary bandit"
    • Why do DeLong and Shleifer say that "Leviathan" alone is insufficient?
  • How strong is DLS's empirical evidence, really?
  • Why should "merchants" be different from "princes"?
    • The peculiar status of the European city...
    • Why so few "merchants" elsewhere in the early-modern world?
      • China
      • India
      • Middle East (Ibn Khaldun)

Jan de Vries (1994), "The Industrious Revolution and the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic History 54:2 (June), pp. 249-70

  • What, exactly, changes to make the "industrious revolution" possible?
  • What did peasants do in the evening before the "industrious revolution"?
  • What did they do afterwards?
  • How large can these effects plausibly be?
    • What is an "entre-preneur"?

Adam Smith (1776), The Wealth of Nations, Book I and Book V

  • The literature of "political oeconomy"
  • "The system of natural liberty" as a game-changing insight
  • How reliant is Book V on Book I?

Economics 210a: Fall 2006: Memo Question for November 1

ECONOMICS 210A: MEMO QUESTION FOR November 1: Agriculture and Forced Labor in Early Modern Growth

Adam Smith confidently predicted that slavery was on its way out for economic reasons. In commercial society, manumission would be the rule because the carrot of working for yourself is much more efficient than the stick of being whipped by others. Was Adam Smith right? If you conclude he was wrong, why was he wrong?

Econ 210a: Fall 2006: Agriculture and Forced Labor in Early Modern Growth: Recommended Readings

Recommended auxiliary readings:

Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James A. Robinson (2005), "The Rise of Europe: Atlantic Trade, Institutional Change and Economic Growth," American Economic Review

Robert Brenner (1977), "The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism," New Left Review I/104

Paul David and Peter Temin (1976), "Slavery: The Progressive Institution?" in Paul David et. al., Reckoning with Slavery, chapter 5.

Robert Fogel and Stan Engerman (1974), Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, chapters 1, 4, and 6.

David Galenson (1981), White Servitude in Colonial America, chapter 9.

Roger Ransom and Richard Sutch (1977), One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation, chapters 2, 3, and 9.

Barbara L. Solow (1987), "Capitalism and Slavery in the Exceedingly Long Run," in B.L. Solow and S.L. Engerman (eds.), British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: The Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge University Press), pp. 51-77.

Duncan Black Strolls Down Memory Lane...

...And finds David Ignatius in October 2002:

Eschaton: Listening to the Wise Old Men of Washington: David Ignatius, 10/06/02:

Many analysts warn of the disasters that await in this postwar Iraq, but frankly I'm not convinced. Yes, Iraq is a country with many ethnic groups that don't always get along. And, yes, there will be a risk of revenge killings and general mayhem as the millions of Iraqis who suffered from Hussein's torturers seek to settle scores. But these strike me as manageable problems.... Maintaining order will be essential in the first weeks and months after Hussein and his secret police are gone, and Washington should be training military police....

Iraq is probably more ready for democracy than any nation in the Arab world. That's partly because its people have suffered so much from the cruelty of the current regime. But it's also because the Iraqis are the most likely Arabs to build a truly modern nation. For centuries, Baghdad has been a center of learning.... It was no accident that Iraq was the only Arab country with the scientific brainpower to mount a serious nuclear weapons program....

[T]alk of Iraq's internecine strife is overblown.... [T]he Shiites of Iraq are Arabs who stayed loyal to Hussein.... Iraq's Shiite elite has been the country's leading modernizers, supplying more than their share of scientists and engineers...

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Virginia Postrel for NYT Op-Ed Page...

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: A quarrel between friends as Ezra Klein and Dana Goldstein kick around the paucity of female pundits. Both make good points. Both, however, also concede the relevance of the (very true) fact that you see a lot more male interest (as reflected in, say, New York Times op-ed submissions or American Prospect job applications) in the field. I actually think this is a bit of a red herring. After all, when you're talking about the highest levels of the professional the nature of the applicant pool doesn't matter at all. Nobody's going to turn down a job as an op-ed columnist at the Times or the Washington Post and you're talking about a universe of maybe two dozen genuinely elite pundit jobs from which you have the entire universe of professional writers (and, as the case of Paul Krugman attests, actually a somewhat wider universe) to choose from.... It's at least plausible that there's a real applicant-pool problem at lower levels, but not at the highest levels. And I'm certain that if women stopped being underrepresented at the highest levels, the applicant-pool would start evening out soon enough. After all, the paucity of women at the very top of the field -- the most prominent portion of it -- is naturally going to discourage people from thinking that they should seriously try to get their feet in the door.

And he repeats a genuinely good idea I've heard before:

Virginia Postrel instead of John Tierney, say.

Is there anybody who thinks that John Tierney deserves his twice a week NYT slot rather than Virginia Postrel? I certainly don't.

Bush Cuts and Runs from 'Stay the Course'

Peter Baker writes:

Bush's New Tack Steers Clear of 'Stay the Course' - President Bush and his aides are annoyed that people keep misinterpreting his Iraq policy as "stay the course." A complete distortion, they say. "That is not a stay-the-course policy," White House press secretary Tony Snow declared yesterday.Where would anyone have gotten that idea? Well, maybe from Bush. "We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed," he said in Salt Lake City in August."We will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course," he said in Milwaukee in July. "I saw people wondering whether the United States would have the nerve to stay the course and help them succeed," he said after returning from Baghdad in June.

But the White House is cutting and running from "stay the course."

A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned "stay the course" into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that "stay the course" does not actually mean stay the course.

Why oh why are we ruled by this idiot?

U.C. Berkeley Journalism Dean Search


Dean: Graduate School of Journalism: University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, invites nominations and applications for the position of Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism. The appointment is effective July 1, 2007.

The School offers a master’s degree program that prepares students for the highest levels of journalism. The School’s purpose is to educate professionals to work in areas ranging from newspapers, magazines, and television to documentary film, radio, photography, and new media.

The dean provides academic, intellectual, professional, and executive leadership; maintains a collegial environment conducive to excellence in teaching, research and journalistic integrity; and takes a leadership role in raising funds and promoting relationships with alumni and the profession.

Applicants for this position should demonstrate an accomplished journalistic record consistent with a position in a news organization of recognized excellence. Top candidates will have a record of demonstrated leadership and administrative skills. Teaching experience is desirable but not required. The Dean may hold a professorship in the Graduate School of Journalism.

Nominations or applications will be given prompt consideration if received by December 31, 2006, but earlier submissions are strongly encouraged.

Applications should contain a letter of interest, detailed resume, and the names of at least three professional references. Nominations should include complete contact information, through either print or electronic means. Nominations or applications should be sent to:

Chair, Journalism Search Committee
University of California, Berkeley
109 California Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500

Electronic submissions are encouraged and should be sent to:

This is a sensitive position and subject to a criminal background check.

As a member of this search committee, I find myself at sea. Here is one question, addressed to all journalists:

What skills would you think you needed to learn immediately if you were starting in journalism right now?

Here's a second question, addressed to everybody:

What does a good Graduate School of Journalism look like early in the 21st century?

Here's a third, Berkeley-specific question:

Berkeley has no fewer than four bureaucratic organizations that seem to be headed for the same place or at least overlapping places:

UC Berkeley School of Information.
UC Berkeley School of Journalism.
UC Berkeley Center for New Media.
UC Berkeley Mass Communications Major.

Should all four of these be merged? Should we search for a Journalism School dean who could--if things develop in such a way--be dean of such a merged enterprise?

Opinions of all kinds welcome...

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New York Times Edition)

Surely the New York Times can find and afford to hire smarter economics reporters than this? Eduardo Porter exhibiting confusion between nominal and real stock prices, looking only at recent changes rather than levels of oil prices, focusing on unemployment rather than other labor market indicators--and that's just paragraph one. Plus as a bonus the first two people quoted are those noted political economists George W. Bush and Frank Luntz. And Eduardo Porter buries the real lead of his story in... paragraph 30:

This Time, It's Not the Economy - New York Times: By EDUARDO PORTER: In many ways, the economy has not looked so good in a long time. The price of gas at the pump has tumbled since midsummer. Unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in more than five years. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average has finally returned to its glory days of the late 1990's, setting records almost daily.

President Bush, in hopes of winning credit for his party's stewardship of the economy, is spending two days this week campaigning on the theme that the economy is purring. "No question that a strong economy is going to help our candidates," Mr. Bush said in a CNBC interview yesterday, "Primarily because they have got something to run on, they can say our economy's good because I voted for tax relief."

But Republican candidates do not seem to be getting any traction from the glowing economic statistics with midterm elections just two weeks away.

The economy is virtually nowhere to be found among the campaign ads of embattled Republican incumbents fighting to hold onto their House or Senate seats. Nor is it showing up as a strong weapon in the arsenal of Republican governors defending their jobs from Democrats.

"I don't know of another election cycle in which the economy was so good, yet the election prospects for the incumbent party looked so bad," said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist. "If something goes wrong, Republicans are to blame. If something goes right, Republicans don't get credit"...

Matthew Yglesias is astounded:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: "The Economy" Versus Your Money: An astoundingly blinkered New York Times article on why Republican candidates aren't getting more of a boost from "glowing economic statistics" takes an astounding thirty paragraphs (admittedly, many of them short) to consider the possibility that "Rather than celebrate the stock market's gains and the overall growth of the economy, many voters are worried about the wages of ordinary workers, which have just started to improve after several years of falling short or barely keeping up with inflation."

Yes, yes, shocking but true -- typical people's perceptions of the economy are driven more by the well-being of typical people than on aggregate macroeconomic indicators. Who'd a thunk it?

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition)

A Washington Post that prints dreck like that of George Will won't last a decade. Look at this:

Prosperity Amid the Gloom - Economic hypochondria, a derangement associated with affluence, is a byproduct of the welfare state: An entitlement mentality gives Americans a low pain threshold -- witness their recurring hysteria about nominal rather than real gasoline prices -- and a sense of being entitled to economic dynamism without the frictions and "creative destruction" that must accompany dynamism. Economic hypochondria is also bred by news media that consider the phrase "good news" an oxymoron, even as the U.S. economy, which has performed better than any other major industrial economy since 2001, drives the Dow to record highs...

Does Will know that in trumpeting the "record highs" of the Dow he is making the exact mistake he condemns earlier in the paragraph as "hysteria about nominal rather than real gasoline prices"? No, he does not. Does Fred Hiatt have anybody read George Will's columns for egregious howlers before they are printed? No he does not.

As I have said, a decade.

Kash Mansouri, at his new weblog "The Street Light, has more:

The Street Light: Economic Cheerleading, Economic Misleading: Every single one of the points that Will makes is misleading, disingenuous, beside the point, or all three.

Just where should I begin in explaining how wrong Will is?

Do I start by mentioning that the federal budget deficit, while relatively low this year... is set to go far higher in coming years?

Do I start by noting that he's comparing oil prices today with the very worst of the oil shock in 1980...?

Should I begin by explaining that the point Will raises about individuals constantly shifting their consumption patterns away from more expensive items and toward cheaper things is an obvious phenomenon that economic statistics already account for?

Or should I begin by noting that the tax cuts... had only a tiny impact on average Americans - only on the order of a couple of hundred dollars per taxpayer per year?

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Slate Edition)

Penguins on the Equator watches Jack Shafer of Slate make a fool of himself:

Penguins on the Equator: An unfunny joke: Jack Shafer takes a detour into political science in his new column, which deals with how journalists are convinced (in his view, wrongly) of their importance to the smooth functioning of democracy:

If there is a profession that doesn't think it's essential to the steady rotation of the planet around the sun, I've never heard of it. (A couple of years ago, a Harvard political scientist got so carried away with waving the flag for special interests that he declared that bowling leagues were vital to the commonweal, and their decline a tragedy.)

This succeeds more as a decisive demonstration that Shafer knows very little about political science than as a joke.... Shafer's pithy summary doesn't exactly do justice to the actual work. Of course it isn't just about bowling leagues. But then, you'd have had to read the thing to know that.

Stupidest Men (and Women) Alive: National Review Department

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Jonathan Chait watches Larry Kudlow in slack-jawed amazement:

The Plank: HOW KUDLOW CAN YOU GO: At National Review Online, Lawrence Kudlow warns that, if Democrats take control of the House, they may institute pay-as-you-go budget rules. Perhaps fearing that the prospect of forcing Congress to pay for new spending doesn't sound sufficiently horrifying, Kudlow proceeds to explain why this is such a terrible idea. His technique is to make things up:

There are essentially two kinds of pay-go. One is a spending limitation that was used by the Gingrich Congress to balance the budget in the 1990s. This would be good. The other is a revenue pay-go, which is not so good.

This isn't some wacky Kudlow opinion here, this is simply wrong. There's only one kind of pay-as-you-go budget rule that has ever been in effect. It came about as a result of the 1990 budget deal--the one with the Bush tax hike that Kudlow and his pals denounced as the greatest betrayal in American history. The rule said, simply, that any new entitlement spending or tax cuts must be offset by cuts in entitlement spending or tax hikes. Hence the term 'pay-as-you-go.'

The rule worked fantastically well, and was credited by various budget geeks with helping to eliminate the budget deficit throughout the 1990s. Then Republicans killed it when George W. Bush became president, and they embarked upon their tax cut and prescription drug bill orgy, neither or which could have passed into law if the pay as you go rules were still in place.

Democrats have tried to reinstate those rules, and have been voted down. They're promising to enact them if they win Congress. Apparently the prospect was so horrific to him it prompted his latest hallucination.

Easy Answers to Stupid Questions: Nixonland

Historian-plagiarist Stephen Ambrose was puzzled. He asked, in his biography of Richard Nixon:

[T]he central question in discussing the problem of the response to Nixon remains, Why did so many people hate him so much? No definitive answer is possible...

Well, one answer is provided by Henry Kissinger, last week in the New York Times:

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War - By Robert L. Beisner - Books - Review - New York Times: Nixon had made essentially unforgivable attacks on [Truman's Secretary of State Dean] Acheson during his 1952 campaign for vice president...

If Henry Kissinger says that Nixon's attacks were "essentially unforgivable," you can believe that they were.

A second answer is provided by Ambrose himself:

[Nixon's] basic message never changed. It was that a Democratic victory would lead to socialism at home and surrender to Communism abroad.... His exaggerations on the campaign trail cost him dearly.... His politics were the politics of division.... [H]e never really believed that the Democrats were leading the United States to socialism and surrender...

And Ambrose almost gets to--but fumbles--a third answer: yet another reason to hate Nixon is that he regarded his fiercest supporters as rubes to be conned, and brought out their worst selves through his lies:

[Nixon's] supporters' response was equally extreme. To the vast majority of conservative Republicans, he was a natural leader, born to command, a man of integrity, intelligence, and virtue, who was full of common sense and could be trusted and should be President. In their view, he always put the interest of his country first... and thank God he stands up to the Democrats...

Ambrose's big problem--one of his big problems--is that he treats the perceptions of those of Nixon's deluded followers who believed that the Democrats in the 1950s were the partisans of socialism and surrender as equally valid as the perceptions of those reality-based enough to know what Nixon's lies were. As Adlai Stevenson said in 1952 of that place called Nixonland:

a land of slander and scare, the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call, and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash-and-grab and anything-to-win... no standard of truth but convenience and no standard of morality except what will serve his interest in an election...

And, of course, Ambrose's big problem is the problem of journalistic hacks today.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?

CNN flubs the distinction between real and nominal stock market highs:

Bush to shift message to healthy economy - WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, who gets higher marks for handling the economy than running the Iraq war, is spending two days this week trying to convince voters Republicans are the best stewards of matters affecting the wallet.... Bush advisers said they think the president should get more credit for recent positive economic news.

Overall, the economy grew at a 2.6 percent pace from April through June, compared with a 5.6 percent pace over the first three months of the year, which was the strongest spurt in 2½ years. Still, voters remain uneasy even though gasoline prices have started dropping, the stock market is hitting record highs, and interest rates on credit cards and adjustable mortgages are leveling off.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush intends to mention how optimism about the economy and rising hopes for strong third-quarter earnings lifted the Dow Jones industrial average past 12,000 for the first time on Wednesday...

Fed Policy Is Still Data-Dependent

Greg Ip:

Why Fed Might Keep Rates on Hold Longer Today Than It Did in 1995 - Core inflation has since risen to 2.9%, according to last week's report on September's consumer-price index; it's a bit lower using the Fed's preferred-price index. Though the Fed has no official target for inflation, Mr. Bernanke and many of his colleagues have often suggested a ceiling of about 2%, and all agree today's rate is too high. Still, most investors expect the Fed to leave short-term rates unchanged at 5.25% at its policy meeting tomorrow and Wednesday.

Having known price stability, and then lost it, today's Fed is under added pressure to regain it. But Mr. Bernanke doesn't intend to restore price stability immediately regardless of the cost in terms of jobs. His central forecast is that as energy prices retreat, so will their indirect impact on core inflation, bringing the core rate back to around 2% by 2008. Yet the Fed is still counting on some slowing in economic growth to bring that about. That is one reason it is not alarmed, and is indeed pleased, that since June, annualized growth has probably slipped below 2.5% and is expected to continue at that rate through mid-2007.

"The economy appears to have entered a period of below-trend growth," San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President Janet Yellen said last week. As long as that continues, it will "gradually...reverse any underlying inflationary pressures." Rather than "opportunistic disinflation," the Fed's current strategy could be called "deliberate disinflation."

A steeper slowdown or looming recession would probably prompt the Fed to shift its attention to growth from inflation, and thus to cut rates. Fed officials are aware that 2006 has parallels not just to 1995 but to 2000. In 2000, as now, strong growth had been fueled by strong investment -- business then, residential now -- and related asset prices -- stocks then, home prices now.

In 2000, Fed officials last raised rates in May, then maintained a public bias toward higher rates for seven months as, privately, their inflation worries receded and growth worries grew. In part, they feared a premature shift to easier monetary policy would reinflate the stock bubble. In retrospect, the Fed didn't realize how far tech investment would fall, undermining the entire economy. Though officials today believe housing isn't like the Nasdaq Stock Market was in 2000, they keep an open mind.

Uncertainty about housing is a major reason the Fed paused when it did in its rate-raising campaign, and that creates another distinction. Even adjusted for inflation, short-term interest rates, which the Fed controls directly, are lower now than at the same point in either the 1995 or 2000 cycles, and long-term rates are even lower.

Treasury-bond yields, minus consumers' long-term expected inflation rate, are just 1.7%, compared with 2.8% in September 2000 and 3.4% in May 1995. "Financial conditions remain quite supportive of borrowing and spending," Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said three weeks ago. "Market interest rates are not high."

Fed officials still debate why long-term rates are so low. It may reflect pessimism about long-term economic growth and investment prospects world-wide, and so give the Fed a reason to worry less about inflation and more about growth. Nonetheless, moderate rates make it harder to argue monetary policy is especially tight right now -- and thus, make the case for rate cuts less compelling.

The Great Risk Shift

The usually-reliable Roger Lowenstein upsets Henry Farrell with his review of Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift:

Henry Farrell: Hacker-a-la-Lowenstein is an economic Rip-van-Winkle, who would like to roll back the economy to the era after the Great Depression, but is forced to acknowledge at the end of his book that this isn't really possible, and to make a few vaguely interesting suggestions for tinkering around the edges.

Hacker-a-la-Hacker (cue the italics) is repeatedly at pains to argue that rolling back these secular economic changes isn't possible. The book isn't about the root causes of these economic changes in global markets, it's about the choices made by leaders regarding how to respond to these changes. Different choices were, and are possible -- other countries have chosen to shelter their citizens to a greater or lesser degree from increasing risks and changes in the employment relationship. Instead, leaders in business and politics in the US have chosen not to respond to these increasing risks, and sometimes to impose new risks on top of those imposed by global markets.

This is banally obvious to anyone who reads the book with even the minimal degree of care and scrupulosity.

Either Lowenstein has failed to grasp the simple, basic core of Hacker's argument or, for whatever reason, he has decided to give a misleading impression of what the book actually says. This isn't the first highly peculiar review of the book -- see Kevin Drum on Brink Lindsay's review which similarly fails more or less completely to address Hacker's actual argument.

Something funny is happening here.

Matthew Yglesias on Digital Rights Management and the iPod

He writes:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: iPod Revolution: Steven Levy recounts and celebrates the "iPod Revolution," the story of everyone's favorite portable digital music device. Now, I've always been an Apple fan, always been a Mac user, and I'm glad to see the company prospering. That said, it's pretty irresponsible to do what Levy does here and leave out the roll a really dumb law and some business blunders by the record labels have played in the iPod's rise to hegemony.

In particular, if you went out and bought an iPod, and then you wanted to legally acquire some music for it, the only place you could turn was the iTunes Music Store. And, once you'd built up a library of songs purchased through the iTunes Music Store, the only place you can play the songs is . . . on an iPod. So if when your iPod's battery dies, you think to yourself "fuck this, I'm going to buy a different company's player," well, doing that will require you to re-buy all your music. So you buy another iPod, and you buy more music and you're further and further locked-in. Even better, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal for a rival firm to construct a player capable of playing legally owned iTunes Music Store files. This is a great deal for Apple who, in virtue of being first, gets to entrench its advantage deeper-and-deeper but it's not very smart legislation.

Even weirder, using Digital Rights Management to produce this sort of circular lock-in wasn't Apple's initial plan for the music store. Instead, they wound up incorporating the DRM features that are key to their business model at the insistence of the record companies, who haven't actually accomplished anything for themselves (it's still very easy to illegally download MP3 files) while accidentally creating a new music industry juggernaut.

The Downward Spiral in Iraq Continues...

Spencer Ackerman summarizes and comments on an excellent story by Ellen Knickmeyer in Iraq:

toohotfortnr: this town has turned into a ghost town: The destruction of Balad, a mixed-but-mostly-Shiite-city in a Sunni-dominated province, is excellently recounted by Ellen Knickmeyer of The Washington Post. About a year and a half ago, I was at a barbeque with a prominent Iraq-war enthusiast, and in the process of explaining to me why I was wrong to advocate withdrawal, he mentioned that Iraqis' high rates of sectarian intermarriage would be a strong bulwark against civil war. Well, goodbye to all that.

Several things stand out here, but let's focus on the most important. The U.S. learns about the sectarian rampage a day after Sunni death-squadders murder 17 Shiites. Balad, it should be said, is the site of a huge and probably permanent U.S. military base. The U.S. puts together what Knickmeyer calls a "quick-reaction" platoon to respond to what's now a mass killing. But the Shiite officials in Balad say, essentially, hang back and let us finish what we started here. Remember this every time you hear that U.S. troops are the only thing standing between Iraq and total sectarian chaos. The Shiites in Balad say let us finish this and the U.S. says yessir. Maybe a different account will emerge in the coming days, but consider this to be the wages of pretending that Iraq has a "national unity" government instead of competing centers of sectarian power: when the "Iraqi officials" say stop the U.S., under pains of inconsistency, must stop, even when that means the revenge killings will go unrestrained.

This is the necessary consequence of the fiction that Iraq is a sovereign country; the fiction that Iraqi forces are standing up; and the fiction that Iraq's rulers are more interested in stopping the sectarian violence than in instigating it.

The obvious objection to this point: Well, Ackerman, are you saying the U.S. should have defied the orders of the Balad officials and reinvaded the town? No, I'm saying U.S. troops should get the hell out lest they be drawn into that nightmare, and no amount of force will represent a prophylactic to such a nightmare when the will to fight among Iraqis is there, particularly among the leaders that the U.S. believes it needs to answer to in order to avoid the charge of imperialism. And speaking of willpower, consider the will of the U.S. commander here: he dispatched a "platoon-sized quick-reaction force. " A platoon! For a city of thousands! Clearly, the U.S. Army and MNF-I does not want to get drawn in to their civil war.

I sang a different tune for the Balkans, but the Balkans was a different situation. Here, let's give the Army what it wants.

A final thought, courtesy of Hussein Abid Ali, who ran a falafel shop in Balad. You can tell he's a Shiite from his name.

Balad's Shiites had been living alongside Sunnis for hundreds of years, Ali said, staring bleakly at the road outside. He had a Sunni son-in-law and Sunni friends, he said. It took the American occupation, he said, to change all that."What do you want to know?" Ali demanded bitterly. "How we reached this level? How we started to kill people according to their identity? How this sectarian strife was brought to us?"

51% of Americans Favor Impeaching Bush?

Greg at The Talent Show writes:

The Talent Show: Political Noodling: a major media outlet like Newsweek... end[s] up burying a lede like this (via Digg):

...calls to impeach Bush: 47 percent of Democrats say that should be a "top priority," but only 28 percent of all Americans say it should be, 23 percent say it should be a lower priority and nearly half, 44 percent, say it should not be done...

Now wait a second...doesn't 28% plus 23% equal 51%? I'd think that a poll showing the majority of Americans favor impeaching the President would be pretty newsworthy, especially considering that this far exceeds the numbers of a President that actually was impeached. If the majorities favoring impeachment and repealing Bush's tax cuts is how Newsweek defines "less support", then the GOP is in a lot more trouble that I thought...

Now that is very interesting indeed.

Hoisted from Comments: A Puzzle: The Economist's American Political Coverage

Dilbert Dogbert and Bupa:

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Puzzle: The Economist's American Political Coverage: The daughter got married this weekend and so I spent some time cooped up in a motel room dog sitting. The wife, who pitied my lack of internet access and reading material, brought two Newssqueeks to the room for me to while away the time. God!!! I stopped reading NW a long time ago, same with Time, for all of the reasons listed above. I had forgoten how awful American news mags are. For all the decay of The Economist, it can not compare with the rot, stench and decay of American news mags.

Posted by: DILBERT DOGBERT | October 22, 2006 at 05:49 PM

Agree with Dilbert Dobert. The selection of American weeklies is pathetic. The Economist is still the best in the category. I've subscribed for 20 years. I disagree with most who say the secular decline is decades old. There was a dramatic switch in American coverage after 9/11 which betrays its 150 year British Liberal roots. Whatever decline was in the works before then pales in comparison.

Still, who on earth reads the Economist for its American coverage? The bulk of the pulbication is focused on the rest of the world. It carried out a long campaign against Berlusconi. It usually gets it about right in its coverage of usually-uncovered corners of the world, like Macedonia this week.

If Brad can read the WSJ but not its editorial page, why not read the Economist but not its American coverage?

Posted by: Bupa | October 22, 2006 at 07:09 PM

The First Sense to Evolve?

Magnetotactic bacteria:

A Blog Around The Clock : Magnetotactic Bacteria: Magnetoreception is one of the most fascinating sensory modalities in living organisms. Most of the work has been done in homing pigeons, migrating birds and salmon. More recently, work has been done in mammals and fruitflies. But this sense is not limited only to the most complex organisms - it is found in a number of bacterial species:

Researchers Reveal Mystery Of Bacterial Magnetism:

Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and Purdue University have shed light on one of microbiology's most fascinating mysteries--why some bacteria are naturally magnetic. Their description of how being magnetic "helps" the bacteria is reported in the August 2006 issue of the Biophysical Journal.

The idea is that these bacteria, all of which prefer environments low in oxygen, use the Earth's magnetic field in order to orient and swim down. Down is where the debris is decaying at the bottom of the lake and the oxygen concentration is likely to be much lower than up, at the surface of the lake.

Interestingly, bacteria caught in the Southern hemisphere have the polarity of the string of magnetite crystals directed in the opposite direction from the Northern hemisphere bacteria. Having a Northern arrangement in a Southern lake would produce the opposite effect - swimming up.

Can Courts Correct the Flaws of Shareholder Democracy?

Gretchen Morgenson hopes to see courts doing for shareholders what shareholders cannot seem to organize to do for themselves:

The Shot Heard Round the Boardrooms - New York Times: Gretchen Morgenson: IN his ruling last Thursday requiring Richard A. Grasso to return as much as $100 million in compensation to the New York Stock Exchange, Justice Charles E. Ramos opined colorfully and unequivocally that Mr. Grasso had breached his fiduciary duties by failing to disclose how mountainous his pay had become during his years as the Big Board's chairman....

Courts have been reluctant to wade into compensation issues in the apparent belief that directors and the shareholders who nominally oversee them can better manage such matters. But shareholders have been unable or unwilling to effect boardroom change, and compensation excesses have become alarmingly common. That seems to be changing; Justice Ramos's decision is the second indication of such a shift. The first was a decision last year by Leo E. Strine Jr., a vice chancellor in the Delaware chancery court, to reject a settlement in a shareholder suit brought against directors and officers of the Fairchild Corporation.

The plaintiffs had contended that Fairchild, an aircraft parts distributor, had excessively compensated its chief executive and certain of his family members and other top executives. The settlement to be paid to shareholders -- with a monetary value of $2.9 million -- was inadequate, the judge said, because it did not do enough to protect shareholders. The court told lawyers for the parties to adopt "real structural protections that may involve a real infusion of some backbone into the board."...

While Vice Chancellor Strine did not weigh in on the merits of the plaintiff's case, his ruling indicates a measure of sympathy to complaints about outsize executive compensation that had not been evident previously.... Justice Ramos's ruling refutes some of the more common arguments for why executives should be held blameless when pay goes through the roof. For example, Mr. Grasso argued that it would have been improper for him to advise the board and its compensation committee about the size of his retirement account. "Not only does nothing preclude Mr. Grasso as C.E.O. from making sure that the committee had all of the information it needed to make an informed decision, it was his affirmative fiduciary duty," Justice Ramos ruled.

And to Mr. Grasso's argument that he did not know the size of his retirement plan... Justice Ramos said: "That a fiduciary of any institution, profit or not-for-profit, could honestly admit that he was unaware of a liability of over $100 million, or even over $36 million, is a clear violation of the duty of care."...

"After slogging through dozens of depositions and countless documents, it came down to a simple proposition," said Avi Schick, deputy attorney general. "Grasso took more than $80 million in pension benefits that were not disclosed to the board as they were accruing. The message to Grasso and directors everywhere is also simple: you must make full disclosure, you must operate with full transparency and you will be held fully accountable"...

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (National Review Edition)

Send your New Republic subsription fees to Spencer Ackerman! You can watch as he picks up the pathetic dorks at National Review and throws them against the wall, just to show the world that he means business:

toohotfortnr: how will you know your enemy? by their colour or your fear?: Oh, Jonah. Today [Jonah Goldberg writes]:

In the dumbed-down debate we're having, there are only two sides: Pro-war and antiwar. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war.

Jonah, April 23, 2002:

I've long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the "Ledeen Doctrine." I'm not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words:

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (New York Times Department)

Journalistic ethics:

Journalistic ethics. Matt Stoller writes:

MyDD :: Direct Democracy for People-Powered Politics: Damn Neoliberals by Matt Stoller, Sat Oct 21, 2006 at 10:39:55 AM EST: This anti-Net Neutrality Op-Ed by William E. Kennard in the New York Times is disgraceful.

Unfortunately, the current debate in Washington is over "net neutrality" -- that is, should network providers be able to charge some companies special fees for faster bandwidth. This is essentially a battle between the extremely wealthy (Google, Amazon and other high-tech giants, which oppose such a move) and the merely rich (the telephone and cable industries). In the past year, collectively they have spent $50 million on lobbying and advertising, effectively preventing Congress and the public from dealing with more pressing issues. This kind of ignorant nonsense comes only from elitists like Kennard, who ironically ignore the public debate happening on the internet because, well, it's on the internet? But the piece of this that is totally disgraceful is Kennard's disclaimer: "William E. Kennard, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 1997 to 2001, is on the board of The New York Times."

They left out that Kennard also sits on the board of Sprint Nextel Corporation, Hawaiian Telcom and Insight Communications (a cable provider).

Blogger ethics panel, stat!

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by This Lying Idiot?

Is Bush really stupid or a really big liar? The answer is "yes":

Think Progress: Bush: "We've Never Been Stay The Course": During an interview today on ABC's This Week, President Bush tried to distance himself from what has been his core strategy in Iraq for the last three years. George Stephanopoulos asked about James Baker's plan to develop a strategy for Iraq that is "between 'stay the course' and 'cut and run.'"

Bush responded, "We've never been stay the course, George!"...

Bush is wrong:

BUSH: We will stay the course. [8/30/06]
BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. [8/4/05]
BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We're just going to stay the course. [12/15/03]
BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We'll stay the course. [4/13/04]
BUSH: And that's why we're going to stay the course in Iraq. And that's why when we say something in Iraq, we're going to do it. [4/16/04]
BUSH: And so we've got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course. [4/5/04]

The question is why this guy ever had any supporters, given how obviously unqualified he was to be president from the get-go. The answer is that there was a first circle of supporters--aides, power-brokers, Republican hacks, operatives, and journalists--who thought they were in on the con, and a second circle who trusted the first-circle membes who lied to them.

UPDATE: Stygius writes:

Stygius: 'Course correction!': Hell... what's poor Laura Bush got to be thinking right now? "Well, I say exactly what the President says, that we need to stay the course; that it's really in our interest as Americans to make sure Iraq can build a stable democracy."

And he points us to:

Search by keyword: Results for: "stay the course": 153 results found, sorted by relevance...

The Bond Market Conundrum

How much does foreign central bank crowding-in lower U.S. bond yields? Brad Setser speaks:

RGE - The impact of central bank demand on US bond yields.: In late 2004 and early 2005, Nouriel and I estimated that the actions of foreign central banks might be holding US yields down by as much as 200 bp. That estimate found its way into Pam Woodall’s Economist Survey. And it then caught former Treasury Secretary Rubin’s eye. Robert Rubin is a wise and cautious man. He didn’t want to endorse the results of work that he hadn’t personally evaluated. So he qualified his remarks by noting:

I read something the other day (probably from the Economist) that -- if it were not for the inflow of capital from abroad -- our long-term interest rates would be as much as 200 basis points higher. I don't know who did the work or how accurate that is. But you may have had a distortion of the bond market by these vast inflows.

Rubin caught us. The 200 bp call didn’t emerge from careful empirical work. It represented our best judgment at the time. Back then there hadn’t been all that much empirical work on the question. And some of that work had found effects that seemed much too small, given the scale of central bank intervention.

Subsequent empirical work, I think, has been reasonably kind to our initial judgment.... Remember, the 200 bp estimate was made in the fall of 2004 and in early 2005 – back at the peak of the “conundrum.”.... That also was back at the peak of foreign central bank demand for Treasuries. I think it is reasonable to conclude that an awful lot of that demand came from the Bank of Japan, acting on behalf of the Ministry of Finance. Other central banks do buy Treasuries, of course, but many do so in ways that don’t register quite as cleanly in the US data (see below).

Moreover, our estimate explicitly included both the direct and indirect effects of central bank intervention.

The direct effect is obvious. Central banks have been intervening in the foreign exchange markets of the world at an unprecedented pace over the past few years – and as a result, they have a ton of dollars and euros that they have to invest. And they generally invest those funds in relatively safe bonds – whether Treasuries, Agencies, of Euro-denominated bonds of comparable quality (one interesting side note: the Italians are the biggest source of supply of euro-denominated government bonds, and, well, they aren’t exactly the best of all euro-denominated sovereign credits – something that may contribute to the dollar’s enduring popularity).

The indirect effects are more amorphous and harder to quantify.

Expectations of central bank intervention shape the actions of private market participants. This is most obvious in Japan. Japan has a history of intervening heavily to keep the yen from strengthening (too much). If market participants expect Japan will act that way in the future, they will be more comfortable borrowing yen to buy higher-yielding assets abroad. After all, the big risk of such a trade is a sharp appreciation of the yen. And if the ministry of finance won’t let that happen, the carry trade becomes more attractive. Think of it as government action that reduces the risk of a “fat tail” kind of outcome....

That argument can be generalized. The fact that central banks stand ready to buy dollars and dollar-denominated bonds if private investors aren’t willing to buy (enough) of them to finance the US deficit makes private investors more comfortable holding dollars and dollar-denominated bonds. Ask PIMCO. All their forecasts are premised on the continuation of the “Bretton Woods” system.

More generally, by keeping their exchange rate weak, the central banks of countries like China held down the price of their exports and thus the price of many imported goods, That helped keep inflation down in the big advanced – and increasingly housing and consumer-drive economies....

Quantifying these indirect effects is hard. It isn’t obvious to me that there is any real way to gauge how expectations about central bank behavior have shaped private expectations. I don’t know of anyone who has seriously tried. At the same time, I think many in the markets accept that central banks are now shaping their own activities (Ken Rogoff has a few colorful quotes).

The New Republic Flameout Continues Department (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

The New Republic flameout continues. Commenters are--justifiably--angry at Franklin Foer's firing of Spencer Ackerman:

The Plank

As I have said, the appropriate thing to do is to take the money you might have otherwise spent on a TNR subscription and send it to Spencer Ackerman at the Florida Avenue Home for Unemployed Webloggers, and to search for more honest news and analysis aggregators.

After all, which is more deserving of your money?

And drop a note to Frank Foer at

Note to Self on the New Republic

When people ask me who in TNR is worth reading, I say "Ackerman, Chait, Cottle, Judis, Lizza, Scheiber, and one or two more." And I add that there are many, many who appear in its pages who definitely don't belong: people likes Mankiw, Robert Samuelson, Sullivan, Peretz, Siegel, Easterbrook, Himmelfarb, Zengerle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Plus bonuses like the glorious Michael B. Oren, arguing last summer: To prevent a regional conflagration, Israel should attack Syria.

TNR needed Spencer Ackerman very badly. It's much weaker without him.

James Baker, the Iraq Study Group, and the Riddle Inside a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

James Baker, after saying that his Iraq Study Group will not report until after the election so as not to "interfere in politics," interferes in politics by leaking his conclusions: that he will convince George W. Bush to abandon "stay the course," for it is time for the U.S. to leave Iraq.

Is this a head fake to try to hold reality-based Republicans in line until after the election, given that Bush has no desire to change course at all?

Is this a signal that Bush is looking for cover to justify a withdrawal from Iraq, but will not take the initiative himself or announce withdrawal until after the election--because of what he fears a change of course now would do to Republican office holders? The bill for each month Bush delays doing what he should have done two years ago is 100 American soldiers dead, 500 American soldiers maimed, and perhaps 4,000 Iraqis dead.

Or is this a last-ditch attempt by Bush 41 partisans--reality-based Republicans--to use the stick of the election to make one more pathetic and vain attempt to unseat Cheney and company and get the stubborn and incompetent George W. Bush to recognize reality?

I think this is the first, and so does Helena Cobban. Pat Lang thinks it is the third. Steven Weisman says he thinks it is the second--but he's in the tank, and is saying what Baker wants him to say.

Sic Semper Tyrannis 2006: There is a great deal of wishful thinking going on along the Potomac these days. The Post article speaks of discontent and brooding among members of Congress, "foreign policy experts" and the like over the goings on at the Baker/Hamilton run Iraq Study Group. There is talk of a coming visit by a "senior" group of Republican law-makers to Bush (GStK) to tell him that he must "change course" in Iraq ("cut and run") or? (something). There is also the rumor that the friends of "the father" (small "f") have marshaled their forces and "girded their loins" for a similar effort.

Unfortunately, all of this inspired rumor-mongering seems to be based on whispering occurring outside the hearing of the president.... Bush, himself, and his spokesman, Tony Snowjob, went out of their way yesterday to make it clear that this is all "hooey."... Do not mistake Bush (GStK) for a businessman who maintains a brave front until his latest venture reaches the stage of collapse. He never was much of a businessman and lacks the instinct for "cutting and running" as he would think of it. If he had been Henry Ford he would still be making "Model As." To hell with the market! He does not have a clue when it comes to such concepts as "sunk cost."

People are asking me uninformed and fantasy laden questions.... Will the military be willing to continue along the present path? Hell yes, they will.... As long as they receive legal orders, the military will obey.... Congress? They authorized the war. Will they vote to un-authorize it?.... Their only real lever against a really intransigent president in a war situation is to cut off the money. Do you really think they are going to do that? I think not. The Bush 41 people? What are they going to tell him, that he is naughty? They should start thinking (with the Congress) of what kind of statement they are going to make to the press in the West Wing driveway after he shows them the door.... I will begin to take seriously the current rumors of great things a coming when Bush or Tony start to "crack" in public. I have not seen it yet.

Steven Weisman of the New York Times--in the tank--tells us exactly what James Baker wants him to tell us, but doesn't tell us why Baker wants this story spread:

An Old Bush Hand Takes on a New Role on the Iraq War - New York Times: For years, James A. Baker III was asked to explain why the first President Bush, whom he served as secretary of state, did not oust Saddam Hussein in 1991 at the end of the Persian Gulf war. "Guess what?" Mr. Baker says these days. "Nobody asks me that anymore."... Baker said he was reluctant to take the job as the Republican co-chairman of the bipartisan group when Congressional leaders and members of the Bush administration urged him to do it.... Asserting that Mr. Bush has an unwarranted reputation for not listening to dissenting views, Mr. Baker added: "It seems to me that this project demonstrates one heck of a lot of flexibility. He's very interested in what this panel has to say."...

Mr. Bush has opened himself to the new ideas when the war is presenting some of the problems the elder Mr. Bush and his aides, in their own memoirs, have said they worried about in 1991.... Its work is to be completed in December or January, a timetable set up at the group's beginning to keep its conclusions out of the current election campaign....

Baker has declared that neither Mr. Bush's "stay the course" message nor what the White House calls the "cut and run" approach of critics offers a way out. "There are other options other than just those two," Mr. Baker said recently on National Public Radio.... His group's proposals, Mr. Baker added, will probably not please the administration or its foes....

For some time, Mr. Baker now acknowledges, he shared the limited regard that many people had of George W. Bush. Like others, he attributes Mr. Bush's eventual success to the discipline and Christian faith that led him to turn his life around in his 40's. In his book, Mr. Baker said he has tremendous admiration for the current president. But reading between the lines, it seems that admiration may not extend to others in the Bush administration. The Iraq Study Group, for example, may not recommend a change of personnel in the administration along with a change of course, but many doubt that those associated with the current approach could carry out a new one.

It is well known that Mr. Baker is not a great fan of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Baker said in his book that Mr. Rumsfeld "engineered" the elder Mr. Bush out of contention as a vice-presidential candidate under President Ford in 1976. Mr. Baker wrote of the "costly mistakes" of the war, including the lack of adequate troops and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army. But he attributed those failings to the Defense Department, not the White House. The one hallmark of Mr. Baker's efforts, associates said, is that he would not undertake a project destined to sit on a shelf and be ignored. His modus operandi is to use the Iraq Study Group not so much to "study" the problem as to work out a solution behind the scenes that is acceptable to a broad spectrum of people, most of all the president.... Dennis B. Ross... "[T]his is not going to be an academic exercise.... [Baker's] going to try to come up with a solution that also allows him to persuade the president that this is the right way to go."...

"Jim is one of the best negotiators I've ever seen," Mr. Greenspan said. "Were he not involved in the Social Security commission, I seriously question whether we could have pulled it off."

Helena Cobban writes:

'Just World News' by Helena Cobban: Jim Baker's dance of the seven veils: My own best source in the ISG's entourage agrees with this characterization of its role.... [T]he group's members are not really "studying" anything at all, but mainly spinning their wheels.... [T]he ISG still has--from the President point of view--an important role... when asked searching questions about the unraveling debacle in Iraq, the President can say "I have Mr. Baker and others of the nation's finest minds working on this problem."...

Meanwhile, though, Baker is also--as it happens--flacking his latest book.... [H]e's been getting asked lots of questions about the ISG, and he's been throwing out just enough hints to make it seem as though the group's eventual report might be recommending some "bold" changes.... What a consummate Washington player the guy is.

Evil Deeds by Nixon and Bush

Mark Thoma finds Bruce Bartlett thinking about religion, Andrew Sullivan, and George W. Bush:

Economist's View: Religion in Government: Like him or hate him, Bruce Bartlett says what he thinks:

God and Government, by Bruce Bartlett: When future historians try to explain the presidency of George W. Bush, his religious fundamentalism unquestionably will be a central focus. It has made him certain about the correctness of his policies, especially the Iraq invasion....

Few writers feel comfortable discussing this aspect of Bush.... Implicitly, we are ... led to accept that we cannot judge others on the basis of their religious beliefs, no matter how crazy they may be....

Consequently, I am grateful when those who are religious raise the same questions I have in my mind about what motivates Bush and how his religion influences his policies. One who has done so is the well-known writer, editor and blogger Andrew Sullivan...

Basically, Sullivan's book is a brief against fundamentalism. As fallible human beings, we simply cannot know all the things that fundamentalists are absolutely certain about... fundamentalists... reject reason, in practice... making rational debate impossible. How can you argue with someone who believes that he knows absolute truth because it has been given to him directly by God through prayer or a sacred text? The answer, of course, is that you cannot....

[T]rue conservatives should just as strongly oppose Bush's religiously based expansions of government as they would those promoted by liberals...

I'm coming around to the view that the most evil of Richard M. Nixon's many evil deeds was what he did to the Republican Party. Before Nixon, it was still recognizably the Party of Lincoln. Nixon played the biggest role in turning it into what it is today: the party of people who don't like (a) Manhattan, (b) Hollywood, (c) San Francisco, and (d) Black people.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Right-Wing Webloggers?

Yes, the uniformed professionals on the panel of judges have taken the Stupidest Man Alive prize away from John Derbyshire and awarded it to Glenn Reynolds. Why? Because Glenn Reynolds says he voted against Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford because the Democrats are bad for the gays. Yes. It is unbelievable. Fontana Labs watches the intellectual trainwreck:

Unfogged: Annals of shamelessness: Posted by Fontana Labson 10.21.06: Instapundit on his decision to vote for Corker in the TN Senate race:

I liked Harold Ford, Jr.... I voted for Corker.... the combination of Ford's "F" rating on gun rights and the sleazy "outing" behavior of the Democrats was such that I just felt I had to vote Republican.... [T]he Democrats have blown it again. Not long ago I was thinking that a Democratic majority in Congress wouldn't be so bad; but the sexual McCarthyism from the pro-outing crowd, coupled with the Dems' steadfast refusal to offer anything useful on national security, has convinced me that they just don't deserve a victory with those tactics. That's not Ford's fault, either, really....

Wait, say that again?

sleazy "outing" behavior of the Democrats...the sexual McCarthyism from the pro-outing crowd...

You cannot be serious. Balko ("It's hard to know where to begin with that") , Lemieux ("it would be considerably more embarrassing if he were telling the truth than if he [were] lying"), and Greenwald ("On Wednesday night, Sean Hannity put Cunningham on Fox's Hannity & Colmes in order to disseminate the innuendo that Strickland is gay, the 'proof' being that he took a trip to Italy with his 26-year-old "boy toy" Congressional aide")...

A Puzzle: The Economist's American Political Coverage

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Economist edition:

Henry Farrell: [P]eople like meself who like to take potshots at [the Economist's] odder articles; we can now be sure that our readers can actually read the original if they click on the link. This piece on the demise of Mark Warner's and George Felix Allen's respective president hopes is a case in point. Most of the article is pretty unexceptionable. The peculiar bit is this summation of the current state of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But whatever the reason, [Warner's] retreat has created a vacuum. He had positioned himself as the centrist alternative to Hillary Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination and the darling of the party%u2019s liberal activists. Southerners, Westerners and moderates are now shopping for a new candidate, perhaps Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico or Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana or former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the vice-presidential nominee in 2004....

So Hillary Clinton is apparently the "darling of the party's liberal activists."... [T]he only surveys that I know of which try to figure out what "liberal activists" want are the Pew survey (which focuses on Howard Dean supporters) and the Blogpac survey, which draws from a sample of MoveOn email list subscribers.... Pew finds that Clinton polls number 4 or number 3 among former Dean activists depending on which question you look at, while the Blogpac survey finds her to be joint fifth with Joe Biden, and to have higher unfavourable ratings than any other listed candidate. Given that Clinton has specifically tried to position herself as the centrist alternative over the last couple of years, this is about what one would expect. Equally bizarre is the suggestion that centrists might want to gravitate towards John Edwards. This could just be the result of sloppy thinking that telescopes "Southerners, Westerners and moderates" into a unified category, but to the extent that Edwards might appeal to Southerners and Westerners, it's not because he's a moderate. It's because he's running the most economically populist campaign that a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination has run in recent history.

These claims don't seem biased to me so much as clueless. The bit about Clinton in particular strikes me as the sort of thing one might believe if one listened more to Republicans talking about Democrats than to Democrats themselves. I don't get the impression that the article's author actually knows very much about what's happening within the Democratic party. Not what you expect from a serious magazine.

And in comments:

Crooked Timber Comments: Hasn’t the management of The Economist been clearly turning their magazine into a right-wing rag for a while?... Posted by Barry · October 21st, 2006 at 7:33 am

Barry, I think standards in general at the Economist have fallen in the last decade or so. But it’s really only the American coverage that has moved to the right – or more precisely, to Republican partisanism – rather than just becoming sloppier. I think that this is a deliberate move on their part – they now have many more American readers than UK ones, and they’re generally rich Americans.

Commercially you can’t go wrong by reinforcing the prejudices of rich old men.

Posted by derrida derider

And the Opinion Mill:

Opinion Mill: Amazing insights from The Economist: Thanks to Atrios and the alert uniformed attendants at Crooked Timber, I see The Economist has taken most of its content out from behind the firewall.

There was a time when I read The Economist regularly, and even paid the premium for a subscription. Then I began to realize that aside from the heftier supply of international news and the absence of the really excruciating fluff pieces Time and Newsweek like to churn out, the Economist differed from its competitors mainly in the fact that it added a letter "u" to certain words. There was also the creeping sense that spores from Fox News had drifted into the Economist's office ventilation system, leading to elevated methane levels and lowered intellectual content in the magazine's reportage on American politics. The attraction of The Economist used to be the sense that it was giving you a view of America from the far side of the ocean. Nowadays, it gives you the sense of having been written from somewhere beneath the ocean, maybe in a suburb of Atlantis....

[George] Allen, we are told, may have been "afflicted by the curse of early popularity." Well, yeah, maybe. On the other hand, he may have been afflicted by his own actions, which as soon as the spotlight hit him showed the world that George Allen is an ignorant buffoon, a neo-Confederate creep and a howling racist who compares dark-skinned people to monkeys and then tells easily exposed lies to smooth things over.

The magazine's lame rundown on Allen can be written off as simple laziness; the summation on Warner, on the other hand, raises deeper questions about where they get their information:

Mr Warner, who served as an extremely popular and successful governor of Virginia until January, insisted there was nothing scandalous involved. Still, his announcement aroused suspicion. Some suggested the salacious. Others wondered if the decision had to do with his vast business interests. But whatever the reason, his retreat has created a vacuum. He had positioned himself as the centrist alternative to Hillary Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination and the darling of the party's liberal activists...

It will certainly come as news to Daily Kos and other centers of liberal activism that Hillary Clinton is their darling. Most of the lefties I know are exasperated and angered by her suport for the Iraq invasion and her ceaseless tacking toward the dead middle; she is a far-left candidate only in the alternate universe that is home to WingNutDaily and the grifters at NewsMax, where Hillary is second only to Ted Kennedy in the winger demonogy...

In my view, it's not spores from Fox News infecting an unsuspecting population of Economist writers. In my view, it's a deliberate attempt by Economist management to shape its American political coverage by hiring people who will ape the political coverage provided by the Wall Street Journal editorial page--but, of course, without the coke, the meth, and the acid the Journal's writers consume daily. The assumption appears to be that pleasing the American circulation base and thus keeping the magazine going requires that its American political coverage start with the assumption that various Republican talking points and shibboleths are true, and then heads off into the Gamma Quadrant from there.

This does have costs: it makes me, for one, much less likely to trust or quote what the Economist writes about the rest of the world and about economics and finance than I was two decades ago.

Back Alleys vs. Main Streets and Iraqi Deaths

Mike Spagat and Neil Johnson hope they have found a significant flaw in the 650,000 number. That would be good news:

The Blog | David Berreby: Did President Bush Actually get Something Right About the Death Toll in Iraq? | The Huffington Post: Johnson and his collaborator Michael Spagat, an economist at the University of London, Royal Holloway, believe they have found just such a fatal flaw -- an error that stems from mistakenly assuming that war deaths work like deaths from illness. It seems all the households surveyed by the Lancet authors were on main roads or at intersections of smaller streets with major arteries. It does not take a detailed knowledge of warfare to imagine how households in those locations would be more likely to report car bombings, market-place explosions, and attacks on vehicles...

And Riverbend--sitting in the middle of the situation--finds the 650,000 number very credible indeed:

Baghdad Burning: For American politicians and military personnel, playing dumb and talking about numbers of bodies in morgues and official statistics, etc, seems to be the latest tactic. But as any Iraqi knows, not every death is being reported. As for getting reliable numbers from the Ministry of Health or any other official Iraqi institution, that's about as probable as getting a coherent, grammatically correct sentence from George Bush--especially after the ministry was banned from giving out correct mortality numbers.

So far, the only Iraqis I know pretending this number is outrageous are either out-of-touch Iraqis abroad who supported the war, or Iraqis inside of the country who are directly benefiting from the occupation ($) and likely living in the Green Zone. The chaos and lack of proper facilities is resulting in people being buried without a trip to the morgue or the hospital. During American military attacks on cities like Samarra and Fallujah, victims were buried in their gardens or in mass graves in football fields. Or has that been forgotten already?

We literally do not know a single Iraqi family that has not seen the violent death of a first or second-degree relative these last three years. Abductions, militias, sectarian violence, revenge killings, assassinations, car-bombs, suicide bombers, American military strikes, Iraqi military raids, death squads, extremists, armed robberies, executions, detentions, secret prisons, torture, mysterious weapons -- with so many different ways to die, is the number so far fetched?

There are Iraqi women who have not shed their black mourning robes since 2003 because each time the end of the proper mourning period comes around, some other relative dies and the countdown begins once again.

Global Imbalances in Historical Perspective

Chris Meissner and Alan Taylor are optimistic:

Losing our Marbles in the New Century? The Great Rebalancing in Historical Perspective: by Christopher M. Meissner and Alan M. Taylor:

Abstract: Great attention is now being paid to global imbalances, the growing U.S. current account deficit financed by growing surpluses in the rest of the world. How can the issue be understood in a more historical perspective? We seek a meaningful comparison between the two eras of globalization: "then" (the period 1870 to 1913) and "now" (the period since the 1970s). We look at the two hegemons in each era: Britain then, and the United States now. And adducing historical data to match what we know from the contemporary record, we proceed in the tradition of New Comparative Economic History to see what lessons the past might have for the present. We consider two of the most controversial and pressing questions in the current debate. First, are current imbalances being sustained, at least in part, by return differentials? And if so, is this reassuring? Second, how will adjustment take place? Will it be a hard or soft landing? Pessimistically, we find no historical evidence that return differentials last forever, even for hegemons. Optimistically, we find that adjustments to imbalances in the past have generally been smooth, even under a regime as hard as the gold standard.

More Lies from Slate

Eric Alterman reads Slate and finds yet more lies:

The Blog | Eric Alterman: 655,000 Dead: Reporting the Reporting | The Huffington Post:[T]he madman, Hitchens, writes in Slate:

The Lancet figures are almost certainly inflated, not least because they were taken from selective war-torn provinces. But there is no reason why they may not come to reflect reality more closely. It is a reminder of the nature of the enemy we face, and not only in Iraq, and a very clear picture of the sort of people who would have a free hand in Iraq if the coalition were to depart.

In fact, the first claim is flat-out false. The study specifically did not pick particularly violent provinces, as Hitchens could have discovered if he looked at the study, not that he gives any impression of having any experience with this type of statistical sampling.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

Felix Salmon on Argentina and Agricultural Commodity Prices

Felix Salmon watches Argentina continue to improve--and trashes U.S. agricultural subsidies:

RGE - Argentina catches another lucky break: Felix Salmon | Oct 20, 2006: How lucky, macroeconomically speaking, has Argentina been over the five years since its diastrous debt default? Every time economists say that things can't get any better and are going to have to start getting worse, more good news comes out. This time, it's global wheat prices, which have soared by some 40% in the past month and which are now at an all-time high. The price of wheat is not going to stay at these levels for long: it's being driven mostly by the drought in Australia, so when that breaks wheat is likely to come back down in price again. But for the time being, this is a great positive shock for Argentina's terms of trade.

Meanwhile, corn has followed wheat up, rising 30% in the past month, although it has been at these prices as recently as 2004. If the wheat price is good news for Argentina, the corn price is bad news for Mexico, where the beleaguered central bank is desperately trying to keep a lid on inflation despite a country where everybody seems to live on tortillas and salsa -- or, to put it in commodity terms, corn and tomatoes, both of which are surging in price.

Of course the best thing that could happen as a result of the increase in corn prices would be a massive reduction or elimination of corn subsidies in the US. They're pretty gruesome even by agricultural-subsidy standards, because they're harmful not only to global trade but to global health as well. The amount of high-fructose corn syrup in junk food is enormous, thanks to its negligible cost, and the 99-cent or even 49-cent hamburger is a function of cheap beef which gets that way because it's fed on corn and not grass. But the elimination of corn subsidies in the US is about as likely as Nestor Kirchner sending troops to Iraq.

Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Washington Post Edition)

It really is a small thing. Or is it? It's a column by opinionator George F. Will on October 18, 2006 One sentence begins:

Economic hypochondria, a derangement associated with affluence, is a byproduct of the welfare state: An entitlement mentality gives Americans a low pain threshold -- witness their recurring hysteria about nominal rather than real gasoline prices...

The very next sentence reads:

Economic hypochondria is also bred by news media that consider the phrase "good news" an oxymoron, even as the U.S. economy, which has performed better than any other major industrial economy since 2001, drives the Dow to record highs...

I repeat: one sentence condemns economic hypochrondriacs for not noting that it is nominal and not real gasoline prices that are at all-time highs, and the next sentence--the very next sentence--condemns economic hypochondriacs for not being enthusiastic about the fact that the nominal (but not the real) Dow-Jones Industrial Average stock market index is at an all-time high.

It is bad, and it is bad, to talk about the nominal rather than the real level of gasoline prices--to fail to adjust for inflation and so fail to note that the real cost of acquiring a gallon of gasoline in terms of tangible resources rather than paper banknotes is less than it was twenty-five years ago. It is surely also bad, and just as bad, to talk about the nominal, not inflation-adjusted "Dow... [driven] to record highs."

Adjusting for inflation is a good thing to do that leads to less inaccurate information and better analyses. It would be a good thing for George F. Will to do to do when noting the point makes his argument against what he calls "economic hypochondria" stronger. It would be a good thing for George F. Will to do when noting the point makes his argument against what he calls "economic hypochondria" weaker.

George F. Will, of course, does not see things this way. That real prices are much more important and relevant, and that nominal prices are misleading and uninformative, is not--in his view--a general analytical principle. It is, instead, a rhetorical point: a point worth making only when it strengthens his case. The possibility that there is something out there called "the truth" which is best explicated by correct economic analysis adjusting for inflation, using real rather than nominal prices--that idea is simply not in George F. Will's conceptual world. He does not view his readers as clients to be informed. He views them as cattle to be driven to whatever conclusion his own prejudices, ideologies, and personal commitments find convenient.

To put it bluntly: American journalism is badly broken. The fact that opinionators like George F. Will hold on to their journalistic market shares in America is quite horrifying to an economist who really does believe in markets, and expects market competition and consumer choice to drive prices of goods and services down and the quality of goods and services up. Competition has indeed driven prices down: you can read George F. Will for free on the world wide web. But competition has not driven the quality of the Washington Post's editorial page up: George F. Will still appears on it, and appears to feel no need to have anybody check his columns for economic illiteracy before he submits them, and the Washington Post editors appear to feel no need to fact-check his columns before they publish them.

And it is not as though this is an exceptional column, or even that the passages I quote are exceptional within the column. Economist Kash Mansouri, at his new weblog "The Street Light," says that he finds: "Every single one of the points that Will makes... misleading, disingenuous, beside the point, or all three..."

It's a big problem: Without informed citizens, we are unlikely to have informed policymakers. And without informed policymakers, we are unlikely to have good economic policies. So we economists urge all you readers to do your part in making the market for good journalism about economics and economic policy work. Find trustworthy sources of information who regard you as clients to be informed. View with suspicion all those who switch their arguments and analytical frameworks from week to week and even sentence to sentence--who regard you as cattle to be driven rather than clients to be informed.

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Yet Another Wall Street Journal Edition)

Yet more lies from the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal:

OpinionJournal - Featured Article: 655,000 War Dead? A bogus study on Iraq casualties. BY STEVEN E. MOORE: I was surprised to read that a study by a group from Johns Hopkins University claims that 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the war.... [T]he key to the validity of cluster sampling is to use enough cluster points.... What happens when you don't use enough cluster points in a survey? You get crazy results....

That's a lie: you don't get "crazy" results--you get imprecise results with large reported standard errors. The 95% confidence interval for Johns Hopkins/Lancet is 500,000 deaths wide. It would have been only 170,000 wide if they had had 500 rather than 50 clustesr.

There was a perfect example of this two years ago. The UNDP's survey, in April and May 2004, estimated between 18,000 and 29,000 Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. This survey was conducted four months prior to another, earlier study [Lancet I] by the Johns Hopkins team, which used 33 cluster points and estimated between 69,000 and 155,000 civilian deaths--four to five times as high...

Tim Lambert calculated that the UNDP study which (a) covered only 2/3 as long a period, and (b) covers a much smaller class of deaths is in no wise inconsistent with Lancet I:

Iraq Mortality | Iraq Mortality: Using figures given in the Lancet Study, Australian academic Tim Lambert derives a figure of 33,000 excess Iraqi deaths due to military action by insurgents and US-led forces in the period up to September 2004.... By simple multiplication, this results in 33,000 "war-related" deaths according to the UNDP definition of this term, for the period March 2003-September 2004. This compares to the UNDP estimate for narrowly-war-related violent deaths of 24,000 for the period March 2003 to April 2004.... If we crudely scale up the UNDP figure to take account of the longer Lancet time period, we reach a figure (33,000) which is exactly the Lancet-derived figure of 33,000 violent deaths due to military action. So, rather than there being a conflict between the two survey-based estimates, as often suggested by officials and apologists for the war, we see mutual confirmation....

Steven E. Moore in the Wall Street Journal continues to blather:

Curious about the kind of people who would have the chutzpah to claim to a national audience that this kind of research was methodologically sound.... Another study in Kosovo cites the use of 50 cluster points, but this was for a population of just 1.6 million, compared to Iraq's 27 million...

As everybody literate in statistics knows--and as Steven Moore doesn't--it's not the number of clusters in proportion to the that is important, it is the absolute number of clusters. Steven Moore: Ignoramus who doesn't know basic statistics? Liar who bets his readers don't know it is the absolute number of clusters is important? I don't know.

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?

"Aftathoughts on NAFTA," October 16, 2006

The audio podcast of my talk at Berkeley's Center for Latin American Studies at lunchtime on Monday October 16.

The event page.

Now let me look for the video...

And here it is:

And here it is, in what I hope is iPod-compatible format:

The Head Rat on the Stump for Don Sherwood (R-Mistress Choker)

Dana Milbank watches the clown show:

During National Character Counts Week, Bush Stumps for Philanderer - By Dana Milbank: Friday, October 20, 2006; A02LA PLUME, Pa., Oct. 19: So it has come to this: Nineteen days before the midterm elections, President Bush flew here to champion the reelection of a congressman who last year settled a $5.5 million lawsuit alleging that he beat his mistress during a five-year affair.

"I'm pleased to be here with Don Sherwood," a smiling president told the congressman's loyal but dispirited supporters at a luncheon fundraiser Thursday. "He has got a record of accomplishment."

Quite a record. While representing the good people of the 10th District, the married congressman shacked up in Washington with a Peruvian immigrant more than three decades his junior. During one assignation in 2004, the woman, who says Sherwood was striking her and trying to strangle her, locked herself in a bathroom and called 911; Sherwood told police he was giving her a back rub.

At a time when Republicans are struggling to motivate religious conservatives to go to the polls next month, it is not clear what benefit the White House found in sending Bush to stump for Sherwood -- smack dab in the middle of what Bush, in an official proclamation, dubbed "National Character Counts Week."

The president encouraged public officials "to observe this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs" -- but public officials responded with some unusual ceremonies and activities: The House ethics committee is holding hearings on the page sex scandal; the FBI raided buildings as part of a probe involving Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.); and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), the eighth person convicted in the Abramoff lobbying scandal, is refusing to vacate his seat in Congress.

On the other hand, while other Republicans proclaim their independence from Bush, Sherwood is one of the few still eager to bask in the president's faint glow. (Another was Sen. George Allen of Virginia, who, after a summer of racial and religious gaffes, was happy to welcome Bush in Richmond on Thursday evening.) Bush may be at a lowly 35 percent in the polls here, but Sherwood should be so lucky: Only 1 in 5 residents definitely intends to vote for him next month. By Sherwood standards, Bush is still a rock star.

"My family and I are humbled by having our friends support us, especially when one is the leader of this great country," Sherwood said in introducing Bush.

His wife and adult daughter stood on stage, human shields against scandal. Their discomfort became apparent when Bush, trying to defuse the controversy, praised the letter Carol Sherwood wrote to her husband's constituents this week about the "needlessly cruel" decision by his Democratic opponent to run an ad about the mistress's allegations. "I was deeply moved by her words," he said, while some in the dead-silent audience noticed an agonized look on daughter Maria Sherwood's face.

Bush was careful to avoid the usual lines about family and conservative values; he also skipped the usual first-name-only reference that would indicate that "Don" is a buddy. Onstage, he gave Sherwood the obligatory handshake and photograph but quickly moved to stand with the female Sherwoods...

Let's Mail Journalist Spencer Ackerman Envelopes of Money!

Spencer Ackerman boosts his reputation by quitting the New Republic. Wonkette reports:

Spencer Ackerman Quits 'The New Republic' -- Observers Shocked That He Was Still There - Wonkette: Ace national security journo Spencer Ackerman quit his editing gig at The New Republic this week, announcing it officially with a tiny little note on his brand new, aptly titled blog. Considering that we’d been told it would happen a month ago, the lack of shock echoing throughout the DC mediasphere is hardly surprising. Why’d Spencer leave?

The ostensible reason for my release concerns my relationship with Franklin Foer and the magazine’s other editors. However, the irreconcilable ideological differences between myself and the top editors at the magazine have been clear to me for months now, and clear to them as well.

We were gonna do one of those “Translated: Marty Peretz is f------ nuts” jokes, but he pretty much did just come out and say it, didn’t he.

I have a question: How can I send Spencer Ackerman two years' worth of New Republic subscription fees? It would definitely be worth it. Ackerman is very good.