Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, April 17, 2015

Flashback Megan: Death Spiral Redux

While I am writing episode 1.01 of  That's Our Megan!, let's take a look back at a McArdle post from 2010.
Health Care by Easter?  
I have never seen conservatives and liberals so divided . . . in beliefs, not values.  On the one hand, there are people like the TNR crew, and Jonathan Bernstein, Andrew's guest-blogger, who seem to think that this it's the next best thing to a done deal.  Meanwhile, all the conservatives and libertarians I know think that it's pretty much hopeless, because Pelosi can't get it through an increasingly rebellious House.  To our jaded eyes it looks as if everyone who can is looking for an excuse not to vote for a bill that is unpopular with their constituents.  

The opinions on both sides seem so confident, and so incompatible, that one group of people is clearly borderline delusional.  I don't see how they can be right--even if passing health care makes the party better off (I'm doubtful), it does not improve the fortunes of members in conservative districts who do not get much mileage out of their affiliation with the Democratic Party (and will get even less mileage if they are seen as enabling unpopular legislation).

But of course, borderline delusional people don't think they're delusional, or else they wouldn't be delusional.  So there you are: either it's a done deal, or it's dead.  There's no longer much middle ground in between.

Two pieces of evidence: Pelosi seems to be losing yes votes.  On the other hand, it's not clear that Republicans understand that at this point, the only thing they can delay or destroy is the fixes, not the bill itself ... which is a problem, because the only weapon they have left is a credible threat to torpedo the fixes and let the bill stand exactly as the Senate passed it.

We report, you decide.

Yes, delusional people really have no idea how far from reality they live.

It's a good thing the ice caps are melting because Megan McArdle parked her double-wide at the North Pole.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Really Smart Argument Against Hillary Clinton

Megan McArdle thinks that Hillary Clinton doesn't have a very good chance at becoming our next president. I know what you're thinking: Megan McArdle is always wrong, something as reliable as death and taxes. But McArdle thinks that failure teaches us how to be successful so it's worth taking a look at her arguments. Anyone who has been wrong that often is probably the smartest person in the world by now.

Why Hillary Clinton is bound to lose:

1.) She's old. Yes, most male presidential candidates are old too but people have different standards for women. True, those people are usually conservative and a conservative would never vote for Hitlery anyway but, umm, she's really really old and people will only vote for women who are not aged and unattractive. (But I repeat myself.) Which is why Sarah Palin won the vice presidency.

2.) Married women vote Republican. To prove this, McArdle links to a post by Kay Hymowitz that states more married women voted for Romney than Obama. Which is why Romney was our last president.

3.) Black voters won't necessarily vote for Clinton just because they voted for Obama. True, a big percentage of Black voters were women and McArdle has said that one of the biggest problems of the Black community is the fact that so many are single mothers and single Black women vote Democrat but--. Uh---. They won't.

4.) Voters don't lean Democrat. McArdle notes that Jonathan Chait says they do, and the link shows that Chait has the poll numbers to back him up but McArdle has a gut check and which do you believe--facts or McArdle's emotions? I thought so!

5.) A recession could scuttle Clinton's candidacy. A recession could scuttle anyone's candidacy but since the public is aware that the Republicans helped create one and the Democrats tried to bring us out of one, this factor might not be a lock.

6.) Clinton is a political neophyte. I'll have to let McArdle take this one in her own words.

6. She's not a particularly good candidate. She has never won a tough election. In fact, she's only won in deep blue New York, which is not exactly playing against the varsity. On the stump, she has nowhere near the appeal of her husband, or Barack Obama. She's a totally fine speaker, but she is not inspiring, and she does not come off as warm; her tone ranges from "well coached" to "annoyed." You might call her the Mitt Romney of the Democrats.

7.) She's damaged goods. McArdle feels that the Republican war against the Clintons will harm her chances of winning votes. Yes, the Republicans attacked Barack Obama with a violent fury and he won anyway but eh, where there's smoke there has to be electoral failure.

8.) People want change. Which is why Obama was elected twice and Bush was elected twice.

9.) Obama's poor approval ratings will not help Clinton.  However approval ratings rise with people's economic optimism which puts Democrats at an advantage.

McArdle says she could be wrong (practice makes perfect) so we will just have to wait and see. But for the life of her she just can't imagine why anyone would think that Clinton has the advantage going into the election.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Rich Man's Profits Are Our First Priority

Megan McArdle's heart bleeds for the working man.

I've written before about the problems facing workers who are at the whims of their employers -- shifts that are scheduled a week or less in advance, on-call periods for which they're supposed to be available on short notice to work but might not get it. This is obviously bad for the workers: It plays havoc with their schedules, making it difficult to schedule child care and, of course, rendering it impossible to take on a second job. The New York attorney general agrees and is now questioning 13 major retailers, including Gap and Sears, about their practices.  

That sounds terrible. It must be eradicated at once.

The problem is that once you start to find legal remedies, you fall down a bit of a rabbit hole. How do you prevent retailers from basically making it impossible to have a life while working for them, while also allowing economically beneficial transactions to take place?

Indeed. How will you help the working man if it costs the rich owner any money? It simply can't be done because one must never interfere with profits.
After all, obstetricians and other medical practices have "on call" hours, and we don't really want to ban those. So do news organizations, which ensures they can cover breaking stories if they pop up over the weekend. I'm sure many other professions sensibly use on-call policies as a way to manage unpredictable workflow. So we don't want to ban on call entirely.

How is that obstetrician going to get a second job at Target if his employers can't put him on call? As for the news organization employees they can just do what McArdle does-never work on weekends.
Maybe we should restrict on-call hours to salaried workers. But I've been on call as an hourly worker, and I was happy with that arrangement.  

And if the Ivy League graduate with a wealthy father was happy to be on call, you should be too.

It was a chance to pick up some extra money, and if they didn't need me, I got my weekend. There are plenty of folks -- say, college students -- who have the time for sporadic work, and they would be unhappy if they couldn't get it. It sounds nice in theory to say "Well, employers should put those people on staff," but there are lots of jobs, from small construction projects to maid service, where that would push up the price of services to the point where the companies lost a lot of work, then the "on call" people wouldn't get to work at all.
If your employer could not enrich himself by exploiting your vulnerability you might not have a job at all.
Maybe we should restrict on call to a certain proportion of work hours. But again, there are people who want all the hours they can get, and others who can only work sporadically. We'd be denying those people a beneficial option.

Of exploitation.

Ultimately, the problem is not the law. It's that employers can get away with forcing workers to commit large chunks of their waking hours just for the chance of picking up a few shifts. And the answer, as I explored recently, is that "the market for low-skilled labor is terrible." People are consenting to these miserable practices because they don't have any better opportunities.

Here's one solution that might thread the needle: Require employers to pay for the privilege of using workers contingently. I'm not saying that they should have to pay minimum wage, but require them to pay something -- say, $1 an hour -- for putting people on call. If the option is still economically valuable, they'll use it. If it's not, then the deadweight losses from banning on call are probably pretty minimal anyway.

Why outlaw exploitive labor practices when you can toss a few dollars at the employee and continue to exploit him?

This is not a perfect free-market solution, as my critics will be quick to point out.

Critics? We laugh at critics!

But it is probably better than forbidding the practice entirely, which is where New York seems to be pointing. Better still, of course, would be to work on the opportunity side, so that people aren't forced into contingent labor in the first place.

Gosh it would be so much better if everything were better, but since it isn't we will just have to let the exploitation continue. It's for the workers' own good.

More seriously--I know people call criticism of McArdle shooting a big fat fish in a wee little barrel but this was incredibly lazy, even by the standards of the world's laziest econoblogger.

And The Beat Goes On

Shorter Megan McArdle: The straw man argument I am having in my head to distract everyone from the egregious errors in my Social Security post is a distraction from the real issue.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Seven Reasons We Hate Free-Range Parenting

In the interests of FREEDOM!!!!11!!!, Megan McArdle has some ideas on how you should raise your children. So do I.

Seven Reasons We Hate Free-Range Parenting:

1. Children are not chickens.

2.  McArdle says stranger abductions are very rare. That is true. This is what she does not say:

There were an estimated 58,200 child victims of nonfamily
abduction [in 1999], defined more broadly to include
all nonfamily perpetrators (friends and acquaintances
as well as strangers) and crimes involving lesser
amounts of forced movement or detention in addition
to the more serious crimes entailed in stereotypical
Teenagers were by far the most frequent victims
of both stereotypical kidnappings and nonfamily
Nearly half of all child victims of stereotypical kidnappings
and nonfamily abductions were sexually
assaulted by the perpetrator.

3. McArdle thinks children should be trained to rush gunmen so we don't have to pass gun laws.

4. McArdle thinks it would be an onerous burden to watch your children when they go to the playground.

5. McArdle thinks parents worry too much about feeling guilty if their daughter is raped while walking around town without an adult.

6. McArdle thinks "there can be too much safety."

7. McArdle wasn't raped as a child so your child certainly will never be raped.

At the age of 9, I walked to school with a group of other 9-year-olds. Or by myself. Across the very busy streets of the Upper West Side, at a time when New York City really was very dangerous. Past housing projects. Around construction sites. My sister rode the subway to school at that age. My best friend got on the crosstown bus by herself in the first grade. Attrition rate among my classmates and myself: 0.

Bonus #8. Pity the poor pedophile.
A couple of years back, I learned that an adult I had grown up around was a pedophile.  He had never, to anyone's knowledge, done anything about it.  Certainly he was never anything but decent to me, and I babysat his kids when I was a pretty young kid myself.  Rather, a technician mucking around on his work computer had discovered a stash of child porn.  He went to jail for a while.  His life was destroyed.
This changed a lot of the way that I think about pedophiles.  I used to use the kind of hyperbole one often hears--that people who look at child porn "should be shot" and so forth.  I don't say those things any more. 

Obviously, I am not going to defend the use of child porn at all; it's despicable, and jail is the appropriate sentence, because the man who purchases child pornography is encouraging its manufacture.  But it made me think of them for the first time with sympathy.  They didn't choose to be like this--God, who would?  Sex is one of the most powerful drives we have, and as Dan Savage's columns testify every week, we have little control whether it focuses on something relatively normal, or something . . . um . . . extremely statistically unlikely.    
That doesn't lessen the horror of child porn, and I think we're right to punish the possession thereof quite heavily.  (And don't get me started on the manufacture: shut the dungeon door and throw away the key).  But the people themselves deserve some shred of our empathy.
If you knew people who were sexually assaulted as a child or were sexually assaulted yourself as a child you are not quite so cavalier about safety. Unfortunately the people who were lucky enough to not be assaulted are trying to convince parents that nobody has anything to worry about.

It's up to you to decide whether or not you want to take that risk. It is you and your child who will have to live with the consequences. Not Megan McArdle.

ADDED: Mark Kleiman weighs in on Twitter: "Victimization losses are small compared to crime-avoidance costs." Perhaps he can tell the parents of the next victimization loss that at least they saved money.

The Patron Of My Patron Is Not My Patron

Pete Peterson says that we must cut Social Security and Medicare because debt is out of control.

Peterson helped fund the New America Foundation.

The New America Foundation helped fund Megan McArdle.

Megan McArdle says we must cut Social Security and Medicare.

Megan McArdle wrote a fawning article on Pete Peterson.

Megan McArdle does not provide a disclaimer saying that she has received money that partially came from Pete Peterson when she writes about Social Security.

Let's take a look at that tribute article from 2014.

Twelve and a half trillion dollars. That’s how much our federal government owes to others as the U.S. rings in 2014. Add to that our hidden debt: the additional trillions not yet on the books but promised to millions of people to pay for their retirement and health care in the future. How is our nation going to pay these mushrooming bills?

That’s the question that Pete Peterson would like to see answered, and as soon as possible. The 87-year-old billionaire created the Peter G. Peterson Foundation with an aim very different from the usual charitable aspiration: to advocate for the budget balancing he believes the nation so desperately needs. To nudge the U.S. in more fiscally cautious directions (even at the price of tax increases that many of his natural allies t hink would create their own economic problems), his foundation has poured tens of millions of dollars into everything from video games on responsible finance to annual budget conclaves on the dangers of a large national debt.

Education and ire

The Peterson Foundation’s first task is education. It expends a lot of money and effort making people aware that there is a serious problem in our federal treasury. If you hear someone talking about entitlements or debt today, chances are they have had their thinking informed by a Peterson report or event. The foundation’s annual Fiscal Summit is rapidly becoming a Who’s Who of serious thinkers on this topic—and the ones who aren’t on the podium are often in the audience, furiously taking notes.

The foundation’s educational outreach extends not just to experts but to the general public, particularly college students—who after all will be stuck with the check. It has sponsored the production of an array of multimedia, from the 2008 documentary film I.O.U.S.A., which premiered at the Sundance Festival, to an array of perky if grim digital leaflets.

 As philanthropic efforts go, attacking the nation’s budget deficit may seem curiously unrewarding. Donors to colleges and art museums get prominent buildings named for them. Donors to African poverty get their pictures in glossy magazines along with Bono. Donors promoting debt reduction get fan mail from accountants and small businessmen.

Deepening national thinking about deficits, though, is important. Indeed, it is one of the most important national issues of our age. A budget crisis, after all, has the power to override every other
policy priority.

Yet it’s also a thankless cause. In today’s fiscal environment—with the economy drifting, tax revenues lackluster, and all those entitlement promises coming due—budget sanity means taking things away from people. Spending will have to be cut, taxes may have to be raised. Confronting austerity tends to spark a lot of ire.

And much ire has been poured onto the courtly figure of Pete Peterson. Liberal economist Dean Baker has called him one of “the granny bashers, intent on privatizing Social Security.” Peterson can be a lightning rod, particularly for left-wing groups that revile the idea of reforming entitlements.

So why is Peterson doing this? What makes him want to dedicate his golden years, and a considerable chunk of his personal fortune, to being the somber voice of warning instead of the sunny voice of assurance?


In his ramble through advertising, academe, manufacturing, politics, then finance, Peterson showed an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. “I’m a great believer in dumb luck,” he told me, but both in person and in his biography, the picture that emerges is of someone who is always open to opportunity, and willing to pursue it with inexorable resolve whenever he stumbled across it. Just as his father took the worst job on the railroad and turned it into a small business capable of supporting a family and multiple employees, Pete Peterson turned accidents into successes.

It probably helped that he was a bit of an outsider, someone with a different perspective on things (starting with the times his mother made him go to school in a frilly Greek blouse, which will make any boy a fighter). There are many points in Peterson’s long career that contributed to his current crusade against deficits: his father’s thrift, his long career in finance, his various episodes of public service. But the first time the world got to see Pete Peterson in action as an outsider who quietly steps in and finds a way to help a broken system heal itself was when John D. Rockefeller III called.


A cool head in a crisis

Peterson had the funds to put that belief into practice once his Blackstone investment firm went public. And by then, he’d developed a cause that didn’t already have its own telethon: restoring America to sane budgeting. A solid Midwestern Republican, Peterson was shocked by the accumulating budget deficits of our current generation—from a slight surplus in 1960, to a deficit of 2.1 percent of GDP in 1971, 2.7 percent in 1980, 5.0 percent in 1986, 10.1 percent in 2009, and 7.0 percent in 2012. This offended his deep-rooted drive for “economia!,” and since 2008 he has committed $1 billion to his deficit-fighting foundation.

For Peterson, ringing a fire bell on this topic feels like his philanthropic calling. “I would find it difficult to spend all of my time and energy on kind of reacting to standard requests,” he recently told the Bridgespan Group in a video interview. “It just wouldn’t be exciting and challenging…. I need challenges.”

Even with $1 billion and an army of advocates on the job, though, can the man with a passion make the necessary impression in Washington, where challenges often turn out to be mystifyingly complicated, and common sense isn’t all that common? Can he overcome today’s special interests and reservoirs of political inertia?

Peterson has navigated himself, and his companies, through some tight spots before. That’s why Lehman made him CEO just a few weeks after joining the firm, when losses in its government-bond department caused an internal crisis. Perhaps someone with a passion for budget balancing is just what Washington needs.

One of the most interesting things about the Peterson Foundation’s efforts is that it hasn’t pushed a specific agenda on the public, or funded ideological forces to do so at arm’s length. Its politically broad investments have encouraged scholars of all perspectives to take ownership of the problem. It has made brainstorming and raising of awareness its work.
Yet if no one takes action, all of this will eventually be for naught. Peterson would rather that the U.S. fix the situation now. Budget problems are easiest to control when tackled early, for the same reason that retirement experts urge people not to wait until they’re 50 to start funding their 401(k)s. But Washington’s short-term thinking has, if anything, gotten worse in recent years. Observers used to lament that policymaking was dominated by the two-year House of Representatives election cycle; now lawmakers lurch from crisis to crisis with political cycles measured in months or weeks.

At some point, Washington is going to have to make some adjustments. Either voters will get anxious enough about our debt to force politicians to act in time, or insolvency is going to make all the terrible choices for the nation. Plans made when things are falling apart can be clumsy ones, and all the mathematical momentum is against you at that point.

The U.S. will be better equipped to make good policy if it has already made the hard calculations and had the necessary discussions about economic realities and tradeoffs long before the time of financial reckoning. Those are the undertakings that the Peterson Foundation is trying to encourage right now, well before an economic emergency unfolds.
The Greeks have recently illustrated many of the bad things that can happen when national spending exceeds resources over an extended period. Greece offers a vivid example of a fate that no one wants. Luckily, Greece has also provided America with a man willing to use his money to help our country find a more responsible way to proceed.

Megan McArdle is a columnist for Bloomberg. Her book The Up Side of Down will be published in February.
One of better bits has McArdle's patented unprofessional habit of using what she must think are subtle word choices to slime the left and portray the right as wide-eyed innocents just tryin' to help a feller along.

[...]Peterson was determined to save foundations as an independent part of American civil society. He is credited with fending off more extreme proposals from the likes of Senator Al Gore, the future vice president’s father. It’s clear that this episode also shaped the way Peterson would approach his own giving when he later became wealthy enough to create his own foundation. Asked how the experience shaped his thinking on philanthropy, he paused for a moment, then smiled shyly. “I thought it was important for foundations to be innovative and do things in areas where no one else is going.”
Why not cover subjects as a journalist when those same subjects are funneling money to people who funnel money to you? It worked with the Koches; McArdle repeatedly defends them and simply denies she is connected to them. When someone points out that journalists are not supposed to do this without giving disclaimers she just lies and says she is giving full disclosures. If you try to pin her down she goes on the attack.

susanoftexas 1 day ago
Full disclosure: my husband once had a fellowship with the Charles G. Koch foundation.

At Reason magazine, where he still works as associate editor.

From Sourcewatch:

The Reason Foundation is a self-described "libertarian" [1] think tank. The Reason Foundation's projects include and, as well as Reason Magazine[2] It is part of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation network.
The Reason Foundation is funded, in part, by what are known as the "Koch Family Foundations,"[3] and David Koch serves as a Reason trustee. [4]

[From the list of Reason funders]
Between 1985 and 2009, the Reason Foundation received funding from the following sources, in the following amounts: [13]
Koch Family Foundations:
Charles G. Koch Foundation $57,000Claude R. Lambe Foundation $857,000David H. Koch Foundation $1,522,212

[Why does anyone care what the Koches do?]

Koch Industries is also a major polluter. During the 1990s, its faulty pipelines were responsible for more than 300 oil spills in five states, prompting a landmark penalty of $35 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In Minnesota, it was fined an additional $8 million for discharging oil into streams. During the months leading up to the 2000 presidential elections, the company faced even more liability, in the form of a 97-count federal indictment charging it with concealing illegal releases of 91 metric tons of benzene, a known carcinogen, from its refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas. Koch Industries was ranked number 10 on the list of Toxic 100 Air Polluters by the Political Economy Research Institute in March, 2010. [1][2]
In a study released in the spring of 2010, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the United States’ top ten air polluters. [15]
Republican TiesIf convicted, the company faced fines of up to $352 million, plus possible jail time for company executives. After George W. Bush became president, however, the U.S. Justice Department dropped 88 of the charges. Two days before the trial, John Ashcroft settled for a plea bargain, in which Koch pled guilty to falsifying documents. All major charges were dropped, and Koch and Ashcroft settled the lawsuit for a fraction of that amount.
Koch had contributed $800,000 to the Bush election campaign and other Republican candidates.
Alex Beehler, assistant deputy under secretary of defense for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health, previously served at Koch as director of environmental and regulatory affairs and concurrently served at the Charles G. Koch Foundation as vice president for environmental projects. [16] Beehler was later nominated and re-nominated by the Bush White House, to become the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General. [17]

Ms. McArdle also donated her time to the Koch's IHS [Institute For Humane Studies] 50th Anniversary Dinner; Charles Koch is its chairman.

There is no shame in being closely aligned with billionaires, as Ms. McArdle has noted. Everyone has to be paid by someone. Journalists should all be as open as possible when it comes to their actions, as Ms. McArdle has noted repeatedly in reference to Mr. Gleick.
35 people liked this.

McMegan 1 day agoin reply to susanoftexas
I am curious to know what you think that this little section has to do with my decision to donate my time to the Institute for Humane Studies, or how that constitutes my being "paid by someone".
19 people liked this.

susanoftexas 1 day agoin reply to McMegan
You want to know what your donation of your time to the Koch brothers has to do with your ties to the Koch brothers? Do you also want to know what your husband's continuing employment at Reason has to do with his ties to Reason?
13 people liked this.

McMegan 1 day agoin reply to susanoftexas
I didn't donate my time to "the Kochs"; I donated it to the Institute for Humane Studies, an organization whose goals I support. Is anyone who donates time or money to an organization to which George Soros donates also "tied to Soros"? Does that donation somehow constitute getting "paid by" George Soros?
36 people liked this
susanoftexas 1 day agoin reply to McMegan
So you deny that you are affiliated in any way with the Koch brothers.
7 people liked this.

McMegan1 day agoin reply to susanoftexas
I have met Charles Koch twice, for about a minute each time. I don't think I have never met David Koch. I receive no personal income from the Kochs, nor, to my knowledge, from any institution with which they are affiliated. I believe that David Koch is still a donor to the Reason Foundation, but I do not know that to be the case, and what I write is certainly not affected by that--except to the extent that the tedious disclosures mean that I spend somewhat less time making fun of the hilarious conspiracy-mongering than I otherwise would. The Kochs had nothing to do with my support of IHS, which predates my learning of their existence.

I'm curious, Susan: who's paying you to troll my blog? Could it be . . . SOROS??? Surely you wouldn't waste all this time to so little effect unless someone was paying you, would you?
43 people liked this. Like Reply

susanoftexas1 day agoin reply to McMegan
Like you, I donate my time.
11 people liked this.
Of course her ties where far more extensive than she let on. McArdle easily rationalizes that since she supports billionaires' goals anyway, taking their money doesn't compromise her work.

I can only imagine the amount of smug satisfaction it gave McArdle to tell me I was wasting my time by pointing out her lies. She knows that nobody cares if she lies, and if they do so what? She is backed by billions of dollars. Those who tell the truth are on their own.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Getting It Wrong Again

So far Megan McArdle has ignored the prominent Los Angeles Times article correcting her deceptive comments about Social Security, choosing instead to respond to Dean Baker's comments at his blog at the Center for Economic and Policy Research without addressing Baker by name.

"Of course we would all like those who disagree with us in major debates to simply disregard their arguments and accept what we are saying as true," their blogger writes. "But most of us just don't possess the power to force our opponents to concede the truth of our position, even when if we use ad hominems to belittle their arguments":
McArdle is a Mean Girl and habitually uses insults to intimidate her targets. One must go with one's strengths however and when knowledge, reason and honesty are one's weaknesses, venom and propagandist repetition are all that is left.

Baker pointed out that the government is going to pay out Social Security just as the government is going to pay out on other bonds. McArdle quoted Baker saying:

McArdle tells us that bonds purchased with prior years' surpluses don't matter, the government still has to cough up the money in the current year. The same logic applies to the bonds held by rich people like Peter Peterson. The government has to cough up the money to pay him the interest this year on whatever bonds he holds.

If McArdle wants to declare it "supremely irrelevant" that the payments for Social Security come from bonds held by the trust fund, then with equal validity we can declare it supremely irrelevant that Peterson paid for the bonds he owns. After all, this would just get us into tired old arguments about moral obligations to bondholders.
Of course McArdle is trying to convince people that Social Security will go under. Randians do not like Social Security because it is theft from the young to the old in their twisted philosophy. She has said in the past:

 It was nice that a combination of rising life expectancy and broader pension coverage allowed a large segment of American workers to take what amounted to a multi-decade vacation.  (Though this was never quite as widespread as people now "remember").  But this was never going to be sustainable. 

As for [increasing Social Security benefits] with taxes, Social Security is expected to stabilize at around 6% of GDP.  What sort of boost are we talking about?  Enough to make up for the fact that our national savings rate has fallen from about 10% of income in 1980 to 2.5% now?  That would be a huge increase, not a small one. It would have quite noticeable effects on the economy, and on the living standards of the younger, poorer workers that we are asking to transfer money to older, wealthier ones.  One of those noticeable impacts would be a further decline in labor force participation by those in their early sixties.  Another might well be a further decline in the private savings rate.  
Of course, we could give everyone smaller increases.  And I imagine they could find uses for the money.  But the same could be said for millions of non-elderly people who are stretched thin.  I'm not sure I see a strong case here for taking even more money from young people and transferring it to people who decided not to save enough.
It probably doesn't hurt that the New America Foundation, funded in part by Pete Peterson, who is trying to eliminate Social Security, gave McArdle a $25,000 fellowship. (The page at the New America Fellowship that listed McArdle as one of its recipients has been scrubbed.) For 25 grand a lot of people would be very much against anything you care to mention. But that money was gravy, not graft. McArdle already believed that nobody should help anyone ever if it cost her money or if she thought it would cost her money.

McArdle's response to Baker is nonsensical, of course. She pretends that the government cannot print money and that we would have to cut the budget to pay for any benefits increases because her arguments would disappear in a puff of smoke if she did not. She also pretends we could never raise taxes for the same reason. These deceptions would not fool a small child or his dog but they give her audience what the audience wants to hear and they keep those fat paychecks a-coming, so McArdle gets to work spreading deception and delusion.

So if we're looking at fiscal policy -- and I'm afraid we'll have to, however much you pound the table about the sacred moral obligations embedded in special-purpose government bonds -- the correct answer to any discussion of the trust fund is "who cares?" Whatever the legal and accounting conventions, from the perspective of the government and the taxpayer, Social Security is no longer self-financing; its benefit payments exceed the revenue it collects from its dedicated taxes. If we want to continue to pay those benefits, we are going to have to find another source for that money: cutting spending elsewhere, raising taxes, or borrowing money in the financial markets (which will itself eventually have to be repaid by either cutting spending or raising taxes). Large and growing sums will be needed. Where shall we get them? Or shall we cut benefits to future retirees? 
Recourses to the sacred moral foundations of the Social Security trust fund are generally an attempt to dodge those questions by people who don't want to consider benefit cuts and aren't brave enough to ask the middle class for hundreds of billions in extra tax revenue, and presumably think that if we just let things go on until the benefit cuts are imminent, we'll have to raise taxes instead of trimming benefits. 

For years, this tactic worked; nothing was done. But now Social Security's dedicated revenue is no longer enough to pay its costs. The taxpayer is going to have to find some extra money or agree to cut spending somewhere (such as benefits for future retirees), or, more probably, both. The Day of Judgment is at hand, and we will not delay it by so much as a minute by squabbling about the ritual status of the Social Security Administration.

McArdle accuses Baker of pounding the table instead of addressing the issue which is of course ridiculous, but she also very carefully accuses him of lying. From Twitter:

15 hours ago
  1. we have a legal obligation to pay Peterson, and a legal obligation to find money or cut benefits if trust fund runs out.
  2. Actually, just a legal obligation to cut benefits. There’s no “find money” provision in the law, just a massive benefit cut.
  3. we cannot legally find money for Social Security? Really? Yeah, it might require Congress to act, but...
  4. I said we don’t have a *legal obligation* to do so.
  5. ... And if it does not, then cuts. But still no legal barrier to finding money for Social Security
  6. I didn’t say there was. The barrier is political, which is that no one want lower benefits or higher taxes.
  7. Also wishful thinkers who write articles falsely implying that this is not an issue we really face.
McArdle leaves herself enough legal wiggle room to do the Shimmy but her meaning is clear.

Baker responded to her response, basically repeating that the government will make good on its responsibilities.

Of course Congress could change the law, as McArdle says, and not pay these benefits. I have not heard many members of Congress suggest that they want to default on the bonds held by the trust fund, but they have the constitutional power to do so. Of course Congress also has the constitutional power to raise the tax rate that Peter Peterson pays on the interest from his government bonds by 40 percentage points. It is unlikely it would impose this sort of tax increase, but it is not constitutionally prevented from doing so.

But McArdle wants us to focus on the fact that the government needs money to pay the interest and principle on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund. This is true, just like it needs money to pay the interest and principle on the bonds held by Peter Peterson. There is no logical reason why the former should be any more a problem for Social Security than the latter is a problem for Peter Peterson.

The bizarre aspect of this discussion is that it comes at a time when the economy is still operating well below its potential level of output, even using the very conservative estimates of the Congressional Budget Office. This means that the government effectively faces no real budget constraint. If it spent more money (either borrowed or printed) it would lead to more output and employment, not a drain of resources from other sectors of the economy. That situation may change in the future (i.e. we may be at or near potential GDP), but those predicting a quick bounce back from the recession have been proven wrong for a long time.

Anyhow, if McArdle wants to claim that we need to have the money from some source other than current Social Security taxes to repay the interest and principle on the bonds held by the trust fund, this is of course true. The hard part is understanding why anyone should care.
McArdle will continue to pretend that she makes her own reality and everyone else must live in it. Why not? Her lavish and slavish support for billionaires is making her rich, proving that money does indeed trickle down as long as you are willing to lie and deceive to get it.

UPDATE: See also RJ Eskow's excellent summation of the event. He mentions McArdle's use of the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, something I found amusing considering the circumstances.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Getting It Wrong

Megan McArdle has written yet another post meant to undercut Social Security but this latest effort didn't just reach her devoted followers. It also reached the Los Angeles TimesMichael Hiltzik:

With even mainstream Democrats coming to embrace the idea of expanding Social Security to help address our looming retirement crisis, it couldn't be long before the pushback emerged from conservatives and Republicans. 
Bloomberg's libertarian economics columnist Megan McArdle was quick out of the box, with a column published Tuesday titled, "The Left Gets it Wrong About Social Security." You should read it, because it's rare to find so much sophistry, misunderstanding and misinformation about Social Security packed into one article. You can count McArdle's disdain for retired people, seldom expressed so openly, as a dividend.
McArdle's target is a budget amendment that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently persuaded almost all Senate Democrats to vote for, aimed at increasing Social Security benefits.
Hiltzik goes on to point out her errors and deceptions; read it all so I don't have to pick apart yet another Social-Security-Is-Doomed post. The best part, as always, is when McArdle pretends that top marginal tax rate on the rich can never be raised above 50%.

The 1970s called, Megan. They wanted to remind you that the top tax rate was over 70%.


I'm in looooove with Bankable Insight.

Many people, including some who generally support free market principles, consider water to be a human right. To be fair, it is a natural resources that is every bit as important to life as oxygen, which is, of course, free. The overwhelming majority of people in the First World take it for granted, and those in America enjoy potable water flowing into their homes, something that even those living in some other First World countries could scarcely imagine. Why, then, when most of the water supplied to American homes is supplied from public utilities, would anyone consider having private companies control the water supply a good idea? 
There are several reasons, but they generally boil down to what Garrett Hardin described as “the tragedy of the commons.” What that means is that if everybody is responsible for something, nobody is responsible for it. In order for people to have reliable, clean drinking water, someone must not only finance the collection, purification, and supply of it, but must also have an incentive for doing so.
“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.” – Milton Friedman
The tragedy of the commons has been seen in many cases before, not the least of which was the first winter that the Pilgrims spent in New England. When they came to America, they intended to create their own Utopia. They shared everything, including possessions, land, and labor equally. As a result, they almost starved to death. There were no incentives to work hard, as everyone would get the same result. When they divided up the land the following year, they enjoyed a bountiful harvest.

Everything you thought you knew is wrong! Of course we have a great deal of information on the first white settlers here; we know they survived partly on the stores of recently-dead Native Americans and would have died off from sickness and malnutrition if more Native Americans had not kept them alive. But the truth is no longer important; who cares if people lie to win? Doh, that's how you win! You can bank on it!

This joker is a nobody, not a minor media star, so there is no reason to add him to the route but he's just precious.

About the Author
Sean McConeghy is originally from New York City. He currently lives in Roatan, Honduras, where he splits his time between freelance writing and working as an associate of Worldwide Bullionaires.

Of course he is.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Word To The Wise

While we wait for Megan McArdle to wait for Tyler Cowen or Mark Bittman to say something so she knows what to write about, let's look at a post on the Daily Beast, McArdle's ex-employer.

A Conservative Case Against Big Business

Oh noes! What would McArdle say to this attack on her Superfriends?

A few years ago, liberal Bill Scher (my Bloggingheads sparring partner) penned a New York Times op-ed titled “How Liberals Win.” His conclusion? They win when they co-opt big business. “The necessity of corporate support for, or at least acquiescence to, liberal policies,” he wrote, “is not a new development in the history of American liberalism. Indeed it has been one of its hallmarks.”

That certainly rings true in a week where big businesses like Apple and Wal-Mart helped sink laws meant to defend religious liberty. (In both cases the laws have been amended—but many conservatives believe the “fix” is worse than having no law on the books.) This is ironic, since conservatives are assumed to be in bed with big business—and since at least one of the companies involved has been culturally associated with so-called red state values.

The suspense is killing me! Will author Matt Lewis realize that Big Business uses tea party-types when it wants to get richer and dumps them when the conservatives cost them money? It looks doubtful since Lewis begins by pinning corporate capture on liberals.

As Catherine Rampell noted at The Washington Post: “Even Wal-Mart, not exactly known for its liberal values, came out against comparable legislation in its home state, saying it ‘sends the wrong message about Arkansas.’” Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public condemnation of the religious liberty laws was far less surprising. But even here, we see troubling hints about Senator Rand Paul’s quixotic promise of bringing techies and Millennials—blocs of voters that are supposedly libertarian-leaning—into the fold. Good luck with that. When push comes to shove, these voters will disproportionally pull the lever for Hillary—both to make history, and because they will be told that the Republican nominee—yes, even if it’s Rand!—is a bigot. The promise that the GOP can merely tweak its image and find new allies is a long shot, at best—and surely not one worth betraying its old allies—social conservatives.

Conservatives were told-by libertarians-that young people and the technological class would vote Republican because that's what libertarians do, which is an interesting and correct admission. However libertarians are also trying to convince themselves that young people are naturally libertarian. Conservatives see any sign of morality as proof of conservatism and libertarians see any rejection of authority as proof of libertarianism. Robert Draper:

Meanwhile, the age group most responsible for delivering Obama his two terms may well become a political wild card over time, in large part because of its libertarian leanings. Raised on the ad hoc communalism of the Internet, disenchanted by the Iraq War, reflexively tolerant of other lifestyles, appalled by government intrusion into their private affairs and increasingly convinced that the Obama economy is rigged against them, the millennials can no longer be regarded as faithful Democrats — and a recent poll confirmed that fully half of voters between ages 18 and 29 are unwedded to either party. Obama has profoundly disappointed many of these voters by shying away from marijuana decriminalization, by leading from behind on same-sex marriage, by trumping the Bush administration on illegal-immigrant deportations and by expanding Bush’s N.S.A. surveillance program. As one 30-year-old libertarian senior staff member on the Hill told me: “I think we expected this sort of thing from Bush. But Obama seemed to be hip and in touch with my generation, and then he goes and reads our emails."
Let me quote this one libertarian; he will stand in for all liberals.
Early polls show young voters favoring Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, but their support could erode as they refamiliarize themselves with her, just as it did in 2008. Clinton has been even slower than Obama to embrace progressive social causes, while in foreign policy, she associates herself more with her former Senate colleague John McCain than with noninterventionists. Nor is Clinton likely to quell millennial fears about government surveillance. Welch says: “Hillary isn’t going to be any good on these issues. She has an authoritarian mind-set and has no interest in Edward Snowden, who’s a hero to a lot of these people.”
Since progressive do not have a say in Democratic politics that should not be a problem.
Back to Lewis:
Back to big business. For a while now, conservatives like Tim Carney have inveighed against “crony capitalism,” pointing out that big business doesn’t really like free markets. Big business is fine with killing off the competition by means of onerous governmental regulations only they can comply with. That’s because they have the resources to hire the lawyers needed to navigate regulations, and the lobbyists who can help change the rules if necessary.

We’ve seen other examples, however, of big business putting profit margins ahead of principle. Don’t forget how big business sided on Obamacare. How could forcing millions of uninsured Americans to buy coverage from private companies not be good business for both the insurance and the pharmaceutical industries? Meanwhile, conservatives who oppose immigration reform often cite the support of big business for “Amnesty.”

We discovered that not only will Big Business shaft people for money, Big Business will shaft people for money.

I think it’s time that social conservatives also realize that big business isn’t their friend, either. My theory is that there are essentially two groups of people you have to be wary of: big government and big business. Conservatives have typically obsessed over the former, while attempting to co-opt the latter. And who can blame them? Most of the other powerful coalition groups are natural allies on the left. As we have demonstrated, having big business on your political side is often the difference between winning and losing public policy battles.

But while conservatives might sometimes have to form a temporary alliance with business, they should remember that this isn’t necessarily a natural alliance. If you’re a conservative, you do have to worry about government (and be cognizant of the fact that bureaucrats don’t care about you). But you must also distrust the people trying to sell you things.

Yes, the Republican party should be wary of getting in bed with Big Business. That might lead to problems in the future.

If you’re a social conservative trying to raise kids in the modern world, consider this: Who’s trying to sell them destructive “products” ... violence, promiscuous sex, unhealthy lifestyles, bad food, etc.? It’s probably not the government. It’s much more likely to be big business trying to turn a profit. Do you think these fat cats actually care about you or your family? Hell, no. They’re trying to make a buck.

Unlike all the times Big Business tried to cut wages and remove safety and financial regulation. That was proof they really love your family.

So what does this mean in practice? Conservatives should ally with big business when it suits their interest. But remember, these folks aren’t their friends. And when the left launches it’s next liberal war on Wal-Mart, conservatives should perhaps consider that it’s not worth wasting much political capital to defend the big box behemoth. What I’m saying is that future arrangements can be seen as casual, not permanent. It’s a hookup, not a marriage. Big business shouldn’t be surprised by this. As the saying goes: “You knew what this was.”

Watch out, Big Business. Libertarians and conservatives have their eyes on your and you won't be able to get away with any shenanigans!