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Total number of comments: 47 (since 2013-11-28 15:36:08)

Mike

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  • Top Myths about Iran's Nuclear Enrichment Program
    • Re. Number 6: I can't claim I know how to read IAEA reports, but I'm definitely concerned when I read the summary of their August report here: link to iaea.org

      That's not to say I believe Iran is trying to make a bomb, but I'm certainly not highly confident they aren't trying.

      PS. I can't seem to read the other comments posted on this article, but can on others.

  • The Age of Mass Killing Comes to Syria & France Pushes Gov't in Exile
    • Dear Prof. Cole,

      I'm sure the continuing and alarming escalation is pressuring governments of the world to act. Do you think they should? If so, what can they do that will have meaningful impact? I don't think we can hope for the success of the Libya intervention in Syria. A few months ago, I myself would have thought doing something even such as a no-fly zone misguided, but with the situation changing over time, I'm not sure I hold that position (then again, I don't feel I have the military expertise to say one way or the other strongly). If you don't have a strong opinion on what governments should do, can you at least offer weak one(s)?

  • Hurricane Isaac may Threaten RNC convention of Climate-Change Deniers in Tampa
    • If this hurricane actually hits the RNC, I will gladly await Pat Robertson's comments about God's wrath. But oh wait, they're Republicans so he'll probably stay silent.

  • Syria Revolt Enters Second Year as World Stands Feckless
    • But assuming Prof. Cole is correct that most of the damage is being done by snipers, what good is air power? Is an Iraq 2003 shock and awe campaign really going to be worth it if we can't/won't provide significant ground support to the Free Syrian Army? At that point, what are we in for and how many civilians will die. I don't know much about the Syrian military, but my sense is in order to run an effective military campaign, we'd need to act more like in Iraq and less like in Libya.

    • (Pragmatic) libertarian here. I largely supported the Libya action because there were seemingly obvious concrete steps intervention could take to prevent significant massacre.

      This is a question I legitimately hope you reply to: What specific actions can/should the international community take to turn the tide on the tragedy that is happening in Syria? Personally, I don't see any great options and as you have pointed out, McCain's plan to arm the protesters is probably a bad idea...I would like to see the world more aggressive on the diplomatic front, but I'm not optimistic much can be achieved through that channel.

  • Three Republican Bears and none Just Right
    • As one of the more-or-less libertarians (but not of the Ron Paul variety) I'm seriously considering not voting in 2012 at all. I rank Obama as superior to most of the other candidates. If I was registered Republican, I'd probably vote for Huntsman in the primary. I may vote for Gary Johnson who is the Libertarian candidate simply as a means to signal my disgust with politics in general and preferences for smaller/smarter government.

  • OWS under Pressure: Banks Bailed out, People Sold Out
    • Isn't the idea of effective nonviolent protest to break the law to draw attention to the issue? I don't get why so many in OWS thought what they did yesterday was supposed to be guaranteed as an expression of free speech. They used force to prevent citizens from working. It was not violent force, but force nonetheless. That doesn't make it immoral, but it does make it illegal.

    • The NYT did a similar story a few months ago describing the declining trend in prosecuting financial crimes. The problem with the financial situation is that without real investigations, we'll never know the role of fraud/lying in the crisis relative to market failures, which makes it all but impossible to make good policy regarding banks moving forward. I think anyone following the debate about what to do, will ultimately agree it's about picking and choosing new laws based on ideology, rather than looking at the evidence. And with something like financial crimes, it's something where you really need deep investigation of a bank or corporation's books, to really know if something is there.

      Without the investigations, you can't say there was widespread unlawful practices for sure, but knowing that is essential moving forward. Here's the thing, banks know the declining trend of enforcing laws, so at the margin, you'll have more people committing financial crimes. It's stories like this that tell my gut the problem wasn't "deregulation" per se, but rather lack of will to enforce basic regulations already on the books.

      Your post missed the "best" (read: cynical) reason why Obama didn't prosecute financial crimes, or at the very least investigate to know to what extent it was a problem. These banks are so important for the economy, that shaking confidence in the markets with prosecutions would have spiraled us into an even deeper recession. While probably true, that stance lack a moral position and ignores the long-term health of our economy.

  • Arab League Suspends Syria as Israeli Warns of "Islamic Empire"
    • I'm not sure if this is a good development or bad development. Obviously any escalation of armed conflict is bad, but I'm not sure what the positive alternative is without violence, assuming Assad refuses to step down and refuses to allow civil discourse. The defections could be a sign that the civil war won't necessarily be won by Assad, but Syria definitely isn't like Libya, and I think you still need a higher defection rate for the rebel forces to have a chance. My fear is that this will only push Assad to do a massive crackdown like his father in Hama, or like Saddam Hussein in Iraq after the intifada. The worst-case scenario is even more likely in my view if the sanctions, especially the new ones by the Arab League, begin to have/are having a significant negative impact on the regime.

      As of now, it seems there were more reasons to be optimistic about Libya at this point in their conflict, compared to Syria. I guess the big question for the West is, is there a tipping point that exists, where enough military defections will encourage them to have a no-fly zone and protect civilians.

  • If American Land were Distributed the way American Wealth Is
    • Does that map take into account property values? I feel the 90% have too much premium beach land on that map...

  • Ambassador Ford's Departure a Defeat for al-Assad
    • The US recalled its ambassador to Libya under similar circumstances in December 2010...

  • News that Makes you Go 'Hunh'?
    • You should spend a few more minutes on the site, and actually look at the data. I think the fact that Obama has already raised a lot more than his competitors thus far explains a lot. The biggest reason is probably that the Republicans are in primary season, whereas the Democrats already have their nominee. The real preference won't be revealed until after the Republican nomination is secured. That said, are you actually saying $350,000 is a significant amount in a presidential election?

      The relevant comparison would be the 2008 general election and the site shows Obama handily received more donations from finance than McCain: link to opensecrets.org

    • OpenSecrets.org shows who funds our politicians: link to opensecrets.org

      Summary: Wall Street goes both ways. My guess is they pick whoever they think has the best chance of winning, then ensure they always have the ear of that person.

      The NYT had an article a few months ago about how there were lack of prosecutions of financial crimes going all the way back to Clinton. Now, it's hard to say how much illegal activity contributed to the crisis, but it's a problem that the government isn't investigating. I won't go so far as Prof. Cole as to say that it's the reason for the crisis, but my point is we'll likely never know the role (if any) because the government is seemingly looking the other way regarding potential fraud. A few tidbits have come out here and there, but that information is borderline meaningless without real investigations by the SEC.

  • Sanctions on Iran will Never Produce Real Change
    • While I don't doubt sanctions are having economic effects on Iran, how are politics changing as a result, if at all? Are the sanctions only going to hurt poor Iranians? Are Iranians seeing/going to see a substantial decrease in their standard of living? Is any economic decline manifesting itself in more or less support for the regime? None of those questions seem to have obvious answers to me, but those answers are in my opinion, the key to understanding whether or not sanctions are an appropriate policy.

  • Mayor Bloomberg and Occupy Wall Street by the Numbers
    • I think the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are two sides of the same coin. Both want to keep more of the wealth America generates out of the hands of people who have proven they don't know how to spend. The two movements are difficult to compare, especially since the Occupy movement is in its early stages, but to me, it has a similar "feel" as the Tea Party. Personally, I have never considered myself a Tea Partier, nor have I called myself an Occupier, but as a young person in America, both movements have messages that resonate with me.

      If these two grassroots movements can really take hold in this country, we might have some really interesting policy debate. I think it appears the Tea Party and Occupiers are opposed to each other regarding specific policy, but if they can recognize their ultimate aims for society have significant common ground, maybe we can see that significant shift in American politics that has strangled our nation's working classes.

  • Best of the Web on Widening Wall Street Protests
    • Which is why in NY, if you take away the financial services sector, unionized public sector workers are relatively even more better off than non-government workers. While private sector NYers suffer (except Wall Street), public sector unions are still unwilling to compromise on reducing the growth of their pay/benefits, even though they are largely better off than their neighbors (unless you leave in the few blocks around Wall Street). The answer can't be tax Wall Street more to cover these costs. If you're going to tax Wall Street more, these public sector union members aren't the first than should be in line to benefit from any increases in tax revenue.

    • I didn't say there wasn't growing inequality, nor that it wasn't a problem. I said people are better off today than they were in 1971. There hasn't been a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. The richer are getting richer far faster than the poor are getting richer. It's definitely a problem; I never said it wasn't. My point is that I think it's harmful if you confuse transfers from the poor to the rich, with the poor growing more slowly than the rich.

      Income mobility in the US is actually fairly robust. What I've read I think puts it roughly on par with Western Europe. Statistics bear out that someone in the bottom 20% in 1971 will see a pretty drastic increase in their income over the span of their working career and be solidly in the middle class by the time they retire. In fact, someone in the bottom 20% will see a higher percentage increase in their income than someone in the top 20%. It's no minor point to note that it's easier to double a really low wage than a really high one, but the point is, people do get better off.

      Statistically speaking, it's hugely relevant for policy to note you are comparing two snapshots of the bottom 20%, rather than looking at people in the bottom 20% in 1970, and then seeing where they are 20 years later.

      The real issue then is why isn't why those in the bottom 20% stay in the bottom 20% (that largely doesn't happen), but why the bottom 20% in 30 years isn't any better off in terms of real wage. This is not a question I have an good answer to. I think it trends well with declining primary/secondary education for poor families. I haven't seen the data, but it's usually true that poorer families reproduce more than richer families. This country certainly needs to do more with equality of opportunity in education. A part of it is also probably the US is a very fast moving economy, where sectors are becoming constantly obsolete while others are created. Unfortunately, removing labor from one sector doesn't mean they are qualified for the new sector, which is why I tend to favor education and job re-training programs.

    • Wages are down, but benefits are way up. Health care, more paid days off, and retirement benefits are common with many jobs, and that simply wasn't the case back in 1971. Even if you got health care in 1971, the thanks to high inflation in the health sector, the cost of providing that health care by an employer has gone way up. On the flip side, you see trends towards households having to have more than 1 person working to maintain a middle class lifestyle. That said, the middle class is constantly redefined. A poor family in 2011 is better off than a middle class family in 1971. The "basket of goods" used to determine real wages in 1971 are a heckuva lot worse than the basket of good used in today's calculation, thanks to technology and productivity gains.

    • The OccupyWallStreet criticism of the role of corporatism/big banks in government is definitely warranted. OpenSecrets.org shows however that this trend in politics is hardly left-right. Both Republicans and Democrats enjoy about equal support from the financial services industry. My feeling is that banks give support to whoever they think will win. Republicans tend to get more money from corporations, while Democrats get more support from unions.

      A note on your data regarding unions. While you are correct regarding the national average, in NY the percentage of unionized workers is closer to 25%, and most of them in NY are white-collar government employees with higher than average pay and benefits. The real story with unionized labor is the stark decline of the blue-collar private sector worker, but those people don't even come close to representing the union movement, especially as far as NY is concerned. In fact, NY public sector unions are now moving towards a deal with the state that would lead to layoffs, not job creation, so that their senior union members can receive higher pay/benefits.

      Moving forward regarding growing inequality and lack of jobs is difficult. I think the President's job bill highlights this, since the 447billion dollar package basically tries a little bit of everything. I have opinions about what are the stronger/weaker aspects of it, but other people have other opinions, and I'm pretty sure there is no clear data as to what's going to work and what isn't. That said, 447 billion on a lot of things likely won't help all that much since we don't know what's going to work and what isn't, and my hunch is there will be aspects of the bill that are a huge failure. Thanks to running deficits since Bush, our ability to afford multiple rounds of stimulus to figure out what policies work and what don't, isn't really possible; we're dangerously close to the point where our level of debt will impact our long-term economic growth, and that makes everybody worse off. There is no obvious policy. Straight-up wealth redistribution is crude, short-sighted, and the math simply doesn't work for any extended period of time.

  • Top Ten Myths about the Libya War
    • Excellent post Juan. Regarding #2, I think that actually shows the only good foreign policy in George W. Bush's presidency (given hindsight). I'm not sure the US/NATO would have been in a position to help the rebels nearly to the extent they have if we hadn't opened up relations with the Gaddafi regime. From what I know of the US diplomatic relations, opening up an embassy in the country over the last several years was essential in making connections to the people that ended up compromising the revolutionaries.

      PS. At least that's all I can think of regarding W's foreign policy successes. There are probably some more, but nothing of any huge importance, and definitely overshadowed by his failures.

  • Obama demands Regime Change in Syria
    • "Unfortunately, sanctions are not a strategy that has been known to work very often, if at all. Baath Party officials will insulate themselves from the effects of the sanctions, and pass the pain on to the common people."

      Does that imply sanctions are not the best policy? If not, what else? Military intervention by the international community? Providing logistic/monetary/other support to protesters? I understand the potentially important political role sanctions can play, but is there reason to believe that's enough, or even productive?

  • President Bachmann as Mideast Prophet: Cole/ Truthdig
    • I dream of a world where articles like this aren't necessary.

      To clarify, I mean to imply it would be better if you could focus your articles on "real" issues in the Middle East, rather than commenting on policies made up from obvious myth. It'd be much better to debate interpretations of facts, rather than having to go through what's real/what's not.

  • Iraq declines to Cut Syria Off
    • I'm still wondering what the effects of the sanctions on the Assad regime are. Iraq in the 90s I think is a great example of sanctions weakening the economy, but also having the effect of strengthening the Saddam regime, since everyone (esp. the poor), became even more dependent on the regime for sustenance. I think we can all agree that's a situation we want to avoid.

  • Paul, Santorum and the Sixth War (on Iran)
    • I'm well-aware of the concept of economies of scale, thank you very much. My qualifications of "generally" and "almost" were purposeful, with economies of scale in mind. I have nothing to offer in terms of sweeping generalizations regarding economies of scale and the rise of corporations. For the analysis of the role of "big" corporations, their relation to government, and positive/negative effects on society, I think we'd have to go industry by industry where economies of scale exist (which first requires determining of they exist in that industry). I will say that we probably benefit in some industries of only having a few major players where economies of scale exist (think: cars).

    • That comment gives you about the same understanding of libertarianism as Fox News has of Islam...

    • No one is forced to be part of a corporation. Hierarchies make sense in certain organizational structures. Do you want the military run democratically, where all battle decisions have to be voted on first by everybody? Sounds like a quick way to lose a war to me...I doubt we'd want to live in a society where there was democratic control of all resources. Have fun working 16 hours a day just to provide food for your family. If that's your idea of the ideal society, you need to have your values checked.

    • Democracy isn't the highest among my values. I value personal responsibility and freedom. Democracy, when it's the only rule, ends up just being the will of the majority, where 51% can decide the fate of the other 49% (and given US politics of late, that's pretty much where we are). Just because something is voted on does not make the end result "good." Corporations are not morally objectionable in that no one is forced to work for them. You can quit at any time, and there are laws to protect you if you are coerced by corporations because coercion is illegal...

      You can choose the company you work for. You can't (practically speaking, unless you are already wealthy), choose the country you live in and thus the laws you live by. I feel fairly confident in saying democratic control over every resource will not lead to sufficient wealth generation to support an advanced society and thus while resources in your view would then be more fairly controlled/distributed, you'd also be back to 16 hour work days to try to feed/clothe your family.

      That said, libertarianism doesn't actually say anything about corporate structure or organizational theory. I believe Germany has experimented with companies that give more democratic control in large companies and their laws are more pro-union which gives workers a choice. Germany tends to suffer from more inflexible labor markets as a result, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

      Public sector unions are probably some of the most undemocratic institutions in our society today because they take power away from the voters.

    • That's likely not the best reason why the South was poor. Also, you'd need a really, really high incarceration rate in my opinion to start having those types of large effects on the economy (and I feel that would be many times the US's already high incarceration rate). I'm pretty sure the South's poor economic performance had a lot to do with racism and unwillingness to deal with integrating its black population into society, but I can only guess since I've never studied the post-Civil War economy in the South.

      I've never met a libertarian who supports prison slave labor.

    • I meant that literally in reference to Professor Cole's comments since apparently it needs to be clarified that libertarians would be critical of a society in which its government was so weak that corporations could then wage war.

    • The EU certainly doesn't lack big corporations. Germany definitely has its fair share of large corporations (think cars, chemicals, and engineering). I can't know whether or not the tools wouldn't exist without government to have monopolies, but I can say that current monopolies game regulations to enhance their market share.

      I don't have much specific knowledge of US vs. EU regulations, but having read up on Germany, my impression is that US regulations/subsidies are generally more poorly designed.

    • You have not met enough libertarians. You describe only a small segment of them.

    • I never said big corporations exist "only" because of government. I think as a general rule, their frequency is magnified by certain government regulations and subsidies. Big corporations aren't necessarily bad either. Like any entity that has power, they can be good or bad. Some industries need big corporations because of economies of scale. There are only a handful of major automakers in the world, but I think it's clear cars would be a lot more expensive if they were made by small companies.

      I'm also not sure what you mean by "big" corporations. I was generally meaning to describe monopoly power and how that effect is magnified by government regulation.

      The far more obvious answer as to why big corporations only exist in the most laissez-faire societies is because laissez-faire societies have significantly more wealth and better rule of law.

    • As someone who mostly falls into the libertarian camp, let me address the issue of corporations. Libertarianism is really diverse, so let me qualify and say that most of what I say would be "left-libertarianism." First, libertarians are not anarchists and I think your post does a poor job of distinguishing between the two. You are probably right that libertarians prize entrepreneurs above all else and you have the corporatism/crony capitalism critique pretty much exactly right. However, that does not mean libertarians love big business. Libertarians generally want a society that prizes small-to-medium sized entrepreneurs and believe that big corporations exist almost entirely as a result of government action through regulation, subsidies, or otherwise.

      Therefore, if a corporation would be so powerful as to wage war, libertarians will generally say the state should step in. Libertarians aren't necessarily against monopolies/oligopolies, but by in large see them as a socially negative and existing because of regulation/manipulation by corporations of government. That said, the course to take when monopolies exist is highly debated amongst libertarians. I tend to think there's no hard and fast rule. Some monopolies/near monopolies are evil, some are really good. Most monopolies I don't think can exist in a market for more than a few decades. And often they can be good. Even Standard Oil had the benefit of reducing oil prices substantially and making it more widely available, thus paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. Without Standard Oil introducing substantially more efficient mechanisms for refining oil and making it cheaper, I'm not so sure the US would have industrialized as fast as it did. Microsoft had a virtual monopoly in the 90s, but now faces stiff competition from Apple. Microsoft's monopoly power to create standards for computers I think greatly facilitated computers integration into daily life and that might not have happened if there was forced competition of smaller companies. Plus, in some industries, economies of scale benefit people overall, even if that ends up meaning there are only a few large corporations.

  • Obama may Call for al-Asad to step down
    • Professor Cole,
      While sanctions send a strong political message, do we know the economic effects yet of sanctions on the regime? I'd hate for a repeat of the '90s where we had over a decade of sanctions on Saddam that weakened the country as a whole, but strengthened the influence of Saddam's regime because everyone turned to it for basic provisions (at least that's my understanding of the effects of the sanctions on Iraq). The economic pie may get smaller in Syria, but that's no good if the pie is increasingly in the hands of al-Asad.

  • Downgraded US Credit Rating: What comes of Coddling the Super-Rich
    • Here is a good article for the possible explanation for the relationship between corporate profits and unemployment still high: link to foreignpolicy.com

      A couple places have also pointed to corporate profits being derived mostly from foreign sources, which isn't an argument for hiring at home, but rather investing abroad. See here: link to businessweek.com

      When you say "joblessness was also caused in part by the near-Depression of 2008-2009 and its aftermath, which was caused by the government not regulating big banks and by it allowing most corporations to act like banks," I get the impression you are trying to argue against the repeal of Glass-Steagall (Maybe I'm wrong), but in fact the repeal probably made the crisis significantly less bad: link to theatlantic.com

      I'm pretty sure this artificial crisis didn't have a positive impact on the Koch Brothers, so I would encourage you to stop unnecessarily bashing them. Yes, they fund organizations that disagree with you. Isn't that good in a healthy democracy? It's not like their funding is secret. The difference is unlike their roughly equivalent counterpart George Soros on the left, they just don't go out in public nearly as much.

      Other than that, I think there is a lot of validity to what you posted.

  • Mubarak on Trial but W. Is Not
    • I don't think W is the problem (Okay, hes a big part of it though). The problem isn't just W though. Mubarak tortured/killed against the "will" of the country, whose "will" wasn't revealed because it was effectively a dictatorship. I'm going to guess that his actions didn't enjoy widespread popular support.

      In the US, the problem is much deeper because you have a significant segment of the population saying that the laws denying torture are unjust in the face of the "evil" we face. People always enjoy it when the Executive chooses not to enforce laws it deems unjust, such as Obama saying he will no longer enforce the DOMA (a move I applaud, especially since I'm in NY). Our problem is too many are willing to vote for and say "We like torture, because it saves children." I'm also guessing that in light of catching Bin Laden, even if the evidence is no torture was used to get the necessary intel, any legal actions against Bush would be met with huge retaliation and probably drum up more support for torture.

      Thus, while I think it would be nice if a nice court case against W could put the issue of torture to rest, I think the problem is too deep. Unfortunately the anti-war groups have poor publicity and I think very few realize torture isn't actually effective on average.

  • Syrian Massacre in Hama Sparks More EU Sanctions
    • Professor Cole,

      Do we know if the sanctions are having a positive or negative effect on the Syrian regime yet, or is it too early to tell?

      I only ask because from my studies of sanctions, it seems to be they mostly have a political rather than economic purpose, and their effectiveness tends to depend on how both effects interact and stick to their target societies. Using the Iraq example, I (think) the standard story now is that US sanctions against Saddam actually strengthened his regime in the 90s. Even though resources in Iraq as a whole went down, the poor become wholly dependent on Saddam for their livelihood with what little was left. Further, the sanctions amplified growing sectarianism resulting from the 1991 intifada since the poor were largely Shia, and Saddam favored the Sunni in handouts (Yes, that's a gross over-simplification of sectarianism from my understanding prior to 2003 in Iraq, but hopefully it's not too off...).

  • Zakaria: Tea Party Tactics Immoral, Dictatorial
    • link to themoneyillusion.com explains the "fiscal contraction" of 1937. Notice the contraction is almost entirely in tax transfers so the best corollary today would be to not let the Bush tax cuts expire

      I thought Milton Friedman already explained the whole Great Depression by highlighting failures of monetary policy, not fiscal policy...

    • Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator. The economic justification for a debt ceiling is tenuous, given default is always worse than increasing debt by a small percentage. That said, I think the debt ceiling was designed to serve to make politicians conscience of increased spending and/or deficits which is important. Without a debt ceiling, it's much easier for politicians to ignore fiscal issues. That said, since it's almost always automatic, the policy was failing in its design. While the specific adjustments/policies of the Tea Party were flawed (as they are from every faction), I do appreciate them saying "Enough is enough. Pay attention to debt!! It matters." Without the Tea Party, I think politicians on both sides would have put off fiscal issues until the 2012 election so everyone could be secure in office. That's hardly democratic/thinking about the best interests of the country either.

      It's hardly democratic that certain issues are always off the table until elections happen. The Tea Party was largely elected in 2010 to address fiscal issues that disenfranchised independents/former Republicans thought the country needed to address. With the debt ceiling debate, the Tea Party successfully brought those issues to the table.

      To summarize major political philosophy in one sentence:
      "The voice of a majority is no proof of justice."
      -Friedrich Schiller

      It doesn't take a deep understanding of the philosophy underpinning our political system to realize much of it is designed to make sure the majority can't abuse the minority. Well, as much as you personally may not mind bearing the burden of taxes, others do mind, so it's their prerogative to try and rein in spending, without supporting revenue increases.

      Ultimately a debt ceiling is being passed, resulting from compromise on both sides. I'd say that's a (minor) success of the political system.

      Final Point: Given rising debt, especially in light of the crisis in Europe and the problem of assessing creditworthiness during the financial crisis, it's more than appropriate in my opinion that the US, which I think issues 60% of government debt around the world, ultimately have its own credit closely examined.

  • Sound and Fury: Americans Actually Lightly Taxed
    • I can only defer to Greg Mankiw on this for offering what I think would be considered a better measure: taxes per capita.

      link to gregmankiw.blogspot.com

      In this comparision, the US is middle of the pack and I'll agree above, we see less bang for our buck so to speak (thanks to political inefficiencies I would argue). Granted, we definitely get an awesome military (how necessary that should be, I'll leave to others to debate).

      Clearly the deficiency of this measure over taxes/GDP is that the US also has among the highest incomes per capita in the Western world. Granted, I think our average income mostly represents that we have a higher proportion of rich people.

      Whatever the case, aspiring to have the highest taxes is misguided. Even in the wake of the growing debt, aspirations should always be to get the best bang for each dollar. If only political processes allowed for us to strengthen welfare programs and reduce taxes at the same time...Something I think is very possible.

  • A Story More Important than Debt Limit Kabuki
    • I would argue it is indeed misleading in the sense that with only this data, only certain actions could result, even though there are in fact a myriad of options. What's obvious is only true if you limit yourself to this presentation of the data. A truly non-biased chart wouldn't selectively choose which factors to show (granted it would also be a hard chart to read). It also doesn't show *the* long-term causes of the deficit, but rather *some* causes. If it were unbiased would include military spending (unrelated to the posted wars), health spending, Social Security, agricultural subsidies, and all the other thousands of factors that make-up spending.

      Further, 2-3 of those causes are hardly long-term. TARP/Fannie/Freddy, the recovery measures, and hopefully the wars (though at this point they are certainly in the "long-term" range, even if winding down) are temporary spikes in spending that aren't repeatedly (hopefully) contributing to the debt year after year (except through rising interest payments as we continue to not pay it off).

      Plausible lessons from the given graph: 1) Wars are costly 2) Tax cuts without spending changes are contribute to increased debt 3) Economic downturns' effect on the debt can be magnified by [perceived/actual need for] government action(?) That last one is probably not valid at this point. I tend to think the government response to the financial crisis was inappropriate. After all, we got stimulus that doesn't in any obvious way seem to have helped (at this point), plus big-bank bailouts (which probably helped the short-term), without any meaningful financial reform. And what was passed may have made incentivized more abuse in the financial sector.

      PS. By definition, the graph doesn't show the structural deficit because it includes "economic downturn" which would be part of the cyclical deficit.

    • The graph is a misleading in terms of what it implies should be done regarding policy. The assumption I'm expecting you are looking for people to draw with the given data is that nothing can be done about the wars (already happened/happening), economic downturn, recovery measures (already spent), TARP/Fannie/Freddie (already spent). Therefore, we must repeal the tax cuts! However, what makes up the deficit without those factors (ie. below the bottom black line) shouldn't be off the table in terms of spending cuts. Having a higher tax regime is hardly something government should strive for (taxing for taxation's sake is ridiculous). Europe with higher taxation rates still gets only as much revenue per person as the US, yet seemingly overall (but not without significant issue), provide a better social safety net.

      That said, I don't really agree with the Republicans about anything, except that I do (somewhat) appreciate their emphasis on the need to deal with our long-term fiscal health, especially regarding our entitlement programs. That said, making it all about the debt ceiling is all political posturing, but at least these issues are on the table now. Democrats were certainly ignoring them. That doesn't mean I think the Republicans have good plans for dealing with the issues, but at least by them having a plan at all, the issues are being brought up.

      I'm (mostly) in favor of a government role in providing for health care, retirement, education, and some wealth redistribution to alleviate poverty. But how the government does it is severely broken and unsustainable. I'm pretty sure we could improve the country's health care, retirement, and education, and spend significantly less money. And yes, I do define improve as more services, especially to lower-income households.

      Side note: The Bush income tax cuts themselves actually were more progressive than the previous taxing regime because the marginal rates at lower income levels dropped more than at upper levels. Tax cuts on investment income and the estate tax are really what benefitted the wealthy (however keep in mind taxes on investments represent double-taxation).

  • Today's Top 5 Crises in the 2011 Arab Revolutions
    • Based on these protests in Cairo, is the perception among Egyptians (esp. youth) that the revolution is far from over? To use an American Revolution analogy (however poor), I tended to see the overthrow of Mubarak as a sort of Battle of Yorktown, where many details needed to be sorted out with a formal peace treaty, but one where the Americans effectively won at that point. Might it instead be fair to say that Egyptians see the overthrow of Mubarak more as a Battle at Saratoga, where they won a significant victory, but still are a long way away from achieving their goals? My guess is that reality is somewhere in the middle of those two.

  • Koch Brothers Exposed
    • I've had pretty extensive interaction with Koch-funded think-tanks and I'm pretty confident in saying the Koch's don't direct the research they do or demand certain results. Like anyone, they fund policy research institutes and people they know generally agree with them. All independent think-tanks have their supporters, and surprise, the Koch's support ones they agree with. The way the video frames issue is borderline dishonest as well. Think-tanks like Cato put a lot of effort into policy research on how to support workers and promote broader distribution of health care to poor people, they just happen to think that current government policies are horrible. And by the way, Cato is pretty critical of corporatism in America as well and certainly don't think the drug companies are amazing.

  • Wisconsin is not Broke, "Budget Crisis" a Fraud
    • Free-market classical liberalism is hardly a recipe for a Company Town. Neo-conservative corporatism certainly is, as is a heavily subsidized economy as advocated by the left, albeit for drastically different reasons. Koch supported foundations are hardly advocates of conspiracies (despite what Rachel Maddow may say), but rather offer a different perspective than the traditional left-right agenda normally presented to Americans. Unlike what the media propagates, there are generally more than two sides to an issue. That said, I am personally less impressed with Heritage, but I definitely think Cato puts out quality policy research, as do other research foundations that receive Koch money. Having read much from the more libertarian-leaning think tanks, I don't think it's fair to brand them as the conspiracies as if they are in the same league as a neo-con (or whatever he is) crazy person like Glenn Beck (at least that's who I associate with crazy conspiracies now-a-days).

      I don't know much about Wisconsin's fiscal situation, and their governor definitely seems to be pulling a fast political maneuvers with budgetary tricks, but that is hardly reason to be dismissive of budget crises. Being able to pay the budget for the next year is hardly "proof" that it's a good policy, especially since resources in one area by definition mean they aren't used elsewhere. I am much more familiar with New York State and it's quite easy to see the trend between unions and bad budget policy. Public sector employees in NYS do much better than the lower/middle classes in the private sector and it's those people who pay the taxes which support their pensions. That's not to say they deserve no benefits, but they should at least be consistent with equivalent jobs in the private sector. Then again, I can only speak to NYS, not Wisconsin's situation.

      In recent decades, I think the evidence is dubious for unions doing much of anything to actually improve the working class. While I agree there are good things governments can do, even meeting your example criteria requires a significantly smaller government, and just because there is a government "solution" to an issue, doesn't mean it's the most effective, that's fair and equitable across all classes. While this is more of an ideological point, I do think historical trends ultimately support the notion that if government gets (largely) out of the way, you end up with a more equitable society with fewer concentrations of wealth/power.

      And with that, I will end my pro-libertarian advocacy and continue to appreciate your blog for it's Middle East content. That said, posts like these do help me realize you are indeed fallible and that I shouldn't blindly agree with all your posts on the Middle East, where it's much harder to find quality opinion commentary. If only there was another source that provided as in-depth coverage as you surrounding events in the region, I'd have more opportunities to formulate better opinions regarding policy in the region.

  • AU proposes Ceasefire, NATO protects Misrata, Ajdabiya
    • Seems to me there are no obvious answers as to how to intervene. I think NATO's attempts to nudge the rebels to victory are likely appropriate, but that the Western involvement should remain confined to such goals. I think right now it's also clear that NATO intervention is not enough to ensure rebel victory and that the real plan is to give Gaddafi's generals more opportunity to defect. I'm unclear at this point as to how a ceasefire would help Libya, unless the end-goal is dividing it into East and West. And if divided into East and West, my feeling is that will only delay future violent conflict, not prevent it. I do think at this point Gaddafi is not seeking any transfer of power to anyone and that he meant what he said when he claimed he would fight until the end.

  • Al-Sadr Threatens Mahdi Army Revival if US Troops Stay
    • Prof. Cole,
      Do you have any sense on Muqtada's ability to reform the Mahdi Army? Its initial rise following the US invasion I think was largely a surprise, but was clearly influential and able to take hold of, and in some sense advance the Islamist movement. However, now that time has passed since it was a significant military presence in Iraq, do you have any sense of Muqtada's ability to influence violent action today? It seems that the Iraqi government has at this point largely consolidated the security forces. I admittedly don't know too much of Sadr's recent activities, but my personal sense of what little I've read on him recently is that there thus far has been no indication of violent action, thus leaving me at present to believe his capacity for a Mahdi Army revival would be limited.

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