Last week, I wrote about the debacle behind the study that was used to promote fiscal austerity in a time when just the opposite policy is prescribed by economic theory. One of the big questions I had was if the results of study’s hypothesis was now insignificant–which in scientific method means the conclusions were not proven–would we see a stop to these crazy austerity policy pushers. We’ve learned the answer is no. Dumber and Dumber–heads of the so-called cat food commission–who couldn’t lead their committee to a written conclusion are on the road touting their call to deficit hysteria based on the always controversial and now highly flawed study.
On April 19, just after I had written about how the key academic research used to bolster austerity policies was exposed by a 28-year-old grad student at U Mass-Amherst, I got a surprise in my email inbox: Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson giddily announced their new deficit-reduction plan, which includes, among other things, a recommendation to increase the eligibility age for Medicare. Their plan would reduce debt as a share of GDP below 70 percent by 2023, and as the Washington Post reports, “seeks far less in new taxes than the original, and it seeks far more in savings from federal health programs for the elderly.”
What’s incredible is that over the last week, the study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff that famously warned of the dangers of government debt has been proven to be riddled with errors and questionable methodology. To recap: R&R’s paper purported to show that countries with public debt in excess of 90 percent of gross domestic product suffered negative economic growth. Austerity hawks everywhere used it to justify cuts that have cost people jobs and vital services. The original spreadsheet used by R&R was obtained by a U Mass grad student, who found that in addition to the mistakes already noted by several economists, there was a coding error in their Excel spreadsheet that significantly changed the results of their study.
As New York magazine’s Jon Chait has pointed out, that same discredited research has been used by Bowles and Simpson to formulate their deficit-reducing austerity plans.
You simply cannot get these tools of the plutocracy to come clean. They’re going to go down with the stupidity and are trying to bring the rest of the country with them.
I promised myself to make sure we pointed to injustice and suffering around the world as well as our own home towns. Today I want to provide information about Myanmar–a country I’ve spent time studying and a country trying to change–with a history of brutal ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority population.
Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya people, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based nongovernmental organisation.
According to the report released on Monday, entitled All You Can Do is Pray, more than 125,000 ethnic Rohingya have been forcibly displaced since two waves of violence in May and October 2012.
Satellite images show almost 5,000 structures on land mostly owned by Muslim Rohingya have been destroyed, says the report.
The October attacks, the report states, were coordinated by Myanmar government officials, an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party and Buddhist monks. The deadliest attack took place on October 23, in which witnesses say at least 70 Rohingya – including 28 children – were massacred in Mrauk-U township.
The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
Most Rohingya who live in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which claims they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and often refers to them as “Bengali”.
The Myanmar government has done nothing to prevent the violence, alleges the report, and at times government forces have joined in the attacks on the Rohingya.
“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.
“The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”
I am so ashamed to read that Buddhist monks may have been participants. They have been targets themselves and this behavior violates the most important teaching of the Buddha which is the vow of non harming. No real Buddhist would participate in such horrors.
I also wanted to mention the return of CISPA and its impact on internet users in this country. This was slipped back into Congress while we were all watching Boston.
Described as “misguided” and “fatally flawed” by the two largest US privacy groups, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) threatens the online privacy of ordinary US residents more so than any other Bill since Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008.
Its sole purpose is to allow private sector firms to search personal and sensitive user data of ordinary US residents to identify this so-called “threat information”, and to then share that information with each other and the US government — without the need for a warrant.
By citing “cybersecurity”, it allows private firms to hand over private user data while circumventing existing privacy laws, such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. This means that CISPA can permit private firms to share your data, such as emails, text messages, and cloud-stored documents and files, with the US government.
It also gives these firms legal protection to hand over such data. There is no judicial oversight.
To make matters worse, because there is little transparency and individual accountability, those who have had their data handed to the US government may not even know about it or be given a chance to challenge it.
Norway’s ruling party is pushing for drilling around environmentally sensitive areas in the Arctic Circle. Could this impact a return to attempts to drill the area by US Oil companies? I hope this doesn’t lead to a race to destroy ANWR
Exploration in the waters around the Lofoten islands just above the Arctic circle is becoming one of the most contentious issues for parliamentary elections in September.
The picturesque area had been off limits because it is home to the world’s richest cod stocks, with environmental groups and the tourism industry opposed to any development.
The Labour party voted for the study, a precursor to any exploration, but also said it would take another vote in 2015, before actual drilling could begin.
Oil is the Norwegian economy’s lifeblood – the nation is the world’s seventh-biggest oil exporter and western Europe’s biggest gas supplier.
Its sprawling offshore energy sector continuously needs new areas to explore to halt the decline in production and energy firms have argued that they should be allowed to investigate the Lofoten islands.
Norway’s oil production will fall to a 25-year low this year as North Sea fields mature. Even a series of recent big finds, like the giant Johan Sverdrup field, which could hold over 3 billion barrels of oil, will only arrest the decline.
Waters off Lofoten are estimated to hold 8 percent of Norway’s undiscovered oil and gas resources with seismic tests identifying 50 prospects that could hold recoverable reserves or around 1.27 billion barrels of oil equivalent, the petroleum directorate said earlier.
With Labour’s support, Norway’s top three parties now favor exploration in the area, raising the chance that the next government would begin the process.
So, here’s what Boston’s “union thugs” will be doing this morning: Boston Teamsters vs. Westboro Baptist Church: Teamsters to form a human shield at Bombing victim’s funeral, Look out BB and our Boston friends! These Westboro folks have come to disrupt funerals there. Down here, our Bikers block them.
Teamsters from Local 25 in Boston will protect the family of bombing victim Krystle Campbell during her funeral tomorrow morning. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are expected to protest.
The Associated Press reports,
Family and friends are saying final good-byes to Krystle Campbell, one of the three people who lost their lives in the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.
A wake for Campbell is being held Sunday at a funeral home in Medford, where the 29-year-old restaurant manager was raised and graduated from high school in 2001. A private funeral is scheduled for Monday at St. Joseph Church.Local 25 was contacted by some concerned citizens of Medford asking for help to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell, scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10 AM in Medford.
Local 25 President Sean O’Brien asked all off-duty Teamsters to participate:
Teamsters Local 25 will be out in full force tomorrow morning at St. Joseph’s Church in Medford to form a human shield and block the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell. The Campbell family and friends have already endured immeasurable amounts of heartache and tragedy this week, and deserve a peaceful funeral with time to grieve privately.
Westboro Baptist Church should understand that we will go to great lengths to make sure they don’t protest any funerals of the victims of the past week’s tragedies, and that those we lost receive a proper burial.
Teamsters Local 25 represents 11,000 hardworking men and women from the Boston area.
There are three dead from the bombing. Westboro is also connected to a law firm that makes money from the antics of these folks. They usually claim their first amendment rights were violated and then collect government money defending their case.
And just because I’ve quit watching CNN around a year ago after watching the station for years, I thought I’d end with this: “Last Week, CNN Itself Became the Poop Cruise”. Frankly, I’ve thought they were full of it and lacking substance for some time.
As reactions to the media’s handling (or rather, mishandling) of breaking news during a busy week continue to flow in, perhaps none is more condemning than David Carr’s latest column in The New York Times. The media critic came down hard on correspondent John King, newly appointed chief Jeff Zucker and the rest of the CNN news team that famously fumbled during the aftermath of the Boston bombing and hunt for the suspects. Most notably, the network erroneously reported the arrest of a suspect on Wednesday, when everybody now knows that a suspect wasn’t arrested until Friday when police found Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the back of a boat.
Carr has an analogy for that. In discussing the mistake, one that more than one person described as “devastating,” Carr reminded us of the most recent moment that CNN’s stolen the limelight — perhaps not in a good way:
It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel. … Until now, the defining story in the Zucker era had been a doomed cruise ship that lost power and was towed to port, where its beleaguered passengers dispersed. This week, CNN seemed a lot like that ship.
Zing. Inevitably, Carr’s piece comes off almost as apologetic. In his parting words, the veteran journalist points out how even the president “wants CNN to be good.” So when it’s bad, it’s hard to watch.
I’m just praying for a better week and that we can get some attention on the small town of West Texas that really needs our help.
What’s you your reading and blogging list today?
Ben Bernanke joined the chorus of economists concerned about the impact of the sequester on the sluggish recovery. This is not the first time the Fed chair has commented on misguided and dysfunctional Fiscal Policy in our country.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress risks slowing the economy by allowing $85 billion in automatic spending cuts to be triggered on Friday, arguing they should be replaced with more deliberate, long-term cuts.
In prepared testimony for the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke argued the sequester would pose a “significant headwind” to the economic recovery.
“Given the still-moderate underlying pace of economic growth, this additional near-term burden on the recovery is significant,” he warned.Bernanke did not offer an opinion on whether tax hikes should be included as part of a replacement bill, and he did not call for any specific entitlement reforms.
Meanwhile, the White House released reports on how the expected cuts will impact states. This undoubtedly will trigger more Republican whining on how mean the President continues to be to them as they continue their role as economic agents of chaos.
In Kentucky, home of the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, residents woke up on Monday to news articles like these: Widespread government spending cuts that begin on Friday will cost 21,484 jobs in the state. A construction project at Fort Knox will come to a halt. Three airports may endure partial shutdowns. Nearly $12 million in grants to public schools would be cut, putting at risk the jobs of 160 teachers and aides. More than 1,000 children would lose access to Head Start.
The White House released warnings for every state on Sunday in the hope that angry voters would besiege Republican lawmakers like Mr. McConnell and the House speaker, John Boehner, to stop the $85 billion in cuts, known as a sequester. President Obama wants to replace the sequester with a mix of tax increases on the rich and less damaging spending reductions. Republicans say they won’t consider any proposal that isn’t all cuts, so the sequester is all but certain to begin this week.
There’s a fairly good list of the types of spending items that will be subject to cuts at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Setting aside the magnitude of the reductions, the most difficult aspect of both the defense and domestic cuts is that they will be made across the board to all non-exempt government spending regardless of programs’ merits or demerits.*** The reductions designed by law are executed at the Program, Project & Activity (PPA) level of the federal budget, sometimes defined in appropriations bills and which often includes very granular categories of expenditures, such as “two Virginia Class Submarines” or “salaries and benefits” of a particular agency.
Absent a new law passed by Congress, the president has little ability to spare one type of spending and cut more from another. This creates uncertainty in both the public and private sector because there remains much to be determined about how PPAs will be defined by agency administrators and how the cuts will be implemented. This inability to plan is already acting as a drag on economic growth.
Furthermore, the immediate and across the board nature of the cuts, along with their magnitude concentrated in a seven-month period, will impair economic growth as the year progresses. At BPC, we estimated last year that the sequester would reduce 2013 gross domestic product (GDP) growth by half a percentage point, and would cost the economy approximately one million jobs over the next two years. More recent estimates released by the CBO and Macroeconomic Advisors have roughly confirmed these projections.
Given all of this, you would think that most congress critterz would want to avoid the sequester. However, there’s that same group of tea party crazies that are so disconnected from an evidence-based reality it appears congress will tank the economy rather than develop a cogent Fiscal Policy related to economic theory and the state of the economy itself.
The White House strategy on the sequester was built around a familiar miscalculation about Republicans. It assumed that, in the end, they would be reasonable and negotiate a realistic alternative to indiscriminate cuts. Because the reductions hurt defense programs long held sacrosanct by Republicans, the White House thought it had leverage that would reduce the damage to the domestic programs favored by Democrats.
It turns out, though, that the defense hawks in the party are outnumbered. More Republicans seem to care about reducing spending at all costs, and the prospect of damaging vital government programs does not seem to bother them. “Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11,” Representative Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma, told The Times. “But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts.”
Cuts this draconian have no place in a tottering economy. But, realistically, the only way to break this standoff is for the cuts to exact their toll on daily life, causing Republicans to face pressure from the public to negotiate an alternative plan with higher revenues in March as part of talks to finance the government for the final six months of the fiscal year.
It’s difficult to believe that so many folks can be so misguided about the need to drastically cut the budget. Read the rest of this entry »
So, all you kind folks that get up way too early in the morning for my tastes and habits sent me to the Morning Joe website to watch Paul Krugman commit beltway heresy. I actually had to play it twice to believe my eyes.
I am reminded of the occasional student that would turn up in a freshmen class and proceed to school the professor on his subject. I saw this when I went to university and I experienced it when I taught freshmen classes. For some reason, all your education, experience, research, and accolades matter naught before people who are absolutely convinced they are right because they just are. I’ve been watching for the internet reactions and they’re wonderful. None is better than Krugman’s response who likens it to the drumbeat leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Even though the evidence was weak and called bogus by experts, we invaded a country with the incestuous amplification of the villagers who really wanted to be war correspondents.
No matter how much proof we have that austerity makes things worse and the current deficit is cyclical, there are a bunch of those in the press that insist they’re not, well … just because they really love the idea of Simpson-Bowles and the unnecessary suffering that would be induced by a study that their committee wouldn’t even approve. I don’t know why they want to induce unnecessary suffering but maybe it has something to do with not being impacted but being able to report from the middle of homeless and starving grannies.
Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties. “Incestuous amplification” happen when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group. A fundamentally flawed notion – say, that the Germans can’t possibly attack though the Ardennes – becomes part of what everyone knows, where “everyone” means by definition only people who accept the flawed notion.
We saw that in the run-up to Iraq, where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.
Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.
The Krugman view on the economy isn’t an outlier in the community of economists. That’s because we know theory and we know the empirical evidence that supports the theories. Here’s a list of 10 People that disagree with the narrative of the deficit scolds as compiled by Joe Wiesenthal at TBI.
But actually there are plenty of economists and economically-literate minds who think that, to varying degrees, the deficit is not what we should be worrying about.
For Joe Scarborough’s sake, here’s a list of people. With each we’ve linked to comments they’ve made about their (lack of) worry about the deficit.
- Goldman chief economist Jan Hatzius
- Nomura economist Richard Koo
- Brad Delong
- Alan Blinder
- Martin Wolf
- Larry Summers
- James Galbraith
- Robert Reich
- Bruce Bartlett
- John Makin (a conservative AEI scholar with a new paper out today on the danger of overhyping deficit fears!)
- Rep. Jerry Nadler (not an economist, but as knowledgeable on economics as anyone up on Scarborough’s list).
Anyway, that was just a partial list, but one that covers conservatives, liberals, Wall Street economists, and former government officials.
The funny thing is that polls show that the American public isn’t all that worried about the deficit either. The economy and jobs outpolls the deficit concerns by about 2 to 1 in polling from all kinds of pollsters. David Atkins–writing at Hullabaloo–calls it the problem of the Kool Kids Table.
Here at Hullabaloo we call it the Kool Kids Table, a pathway to power and social acceptance inaccessible to those who don’t hold the “right” views.
Do I believe that everyone in Joe Scarborough’s sphere of influence knows that Keynesianism is accurate and that Krugman is right, but chooses to say otherwise because it pads their bank account? Of course not. It takes a conspiracy theorist and an idiot to believe that. Washington is corrupt, but it’s not that corrupt.
No, most of these people believe what they say. I don’t doubt that Scarborough’s perplexed shock is genuine. Just like I believe that most of the conservative theologians who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake believed that our solar system was the only one of its kind. After all, anyone who believed otherwise wasn’t taken seriously and didn’t advance in the Church hierarchy. Everyone who was anyone knew better, and since Bruno refused to accept the conventional wisdom he had to be shunned and ultimately silenced. Bruno’s ideas were unserious and dangerous. The man had his head in the sand and couldn’t see what seemed obvious to everyone else.
Perhaps one day the Church of the Austerians will belatedly apologize to Keynes, Krugman, Stiglitz and all the other great economists whose names have been dragged through the mud. But not likely soon, and not during their lifetimes. In our own sordid lifetimes, Popes Simpson and Bowles will continue to bestow favors upon their cardinals, giving communion only to the Kool Kids who deserve it.
It is actually a freshman economics problem to argue that now is a very bad time to focus on the deficit. It’s very simple math. There are 4 actors in our economy. That would be businesses, the foreign sector, households and the government. During a bad economy, the first three actors generally pull back. Households tend to save and pay down debt, businesses don’t order as much inventory or expand because households are pulling back, and the foreign sector is generally impacted by the US economy and will slow down its buying too unless the dollar should become very weak and our prices fall dramatically. US policy normally doesn’t let that happen.
So, the idea is that the government–using its taxing and spending policy–can make up for the fall off in economic activity. It can buy things from the private sector or do things like public works and directly offer households jobs and income and businesses a reason to expand. It can also do this by handing money over to state governments to do the same. All the activity of the four actors contributes to our GDP so if all four of them are pulling back, we get a recession.
We know this not only by talking about it in conceptual terms but also by studying the great depression and the austerity policies of countries like the UK. The UK fixated on austerity and–as a result–has had miserable economy experience and is now fallen into another recession. As Krugman explains, we’ve done relatively better because we had some stimulus. Had it been politically feasible to make it stronger, we’d have had a much stronger recovery. It’s not just a matter of embracing a Keynesian mindset, it’s just a matter of knowing the math or what’s called the national accounting identity. Remember, it’s an identity which means it’s true by definition. You can’t have four negative numbers summed together on one side of an equation with out the other side being negative too.
We also know that we’ve been in worse situations with deficits. Notably, the post-World War 2 period saw huge government deficits. Our economy expanded, we had extremely progressive taxes, and we paid the deficit down. They sky did not fall down because we ran up huge deficits during the War. In fact, buying war bonds that financed the war was seen as patriotic. We personally supported government spending this way. We did not do the same thing in our following wars and skirmishes. Bush Two put two very expensive and long, drawn out wars on the deficit while lowering taxes and decreasing the progressiveness of the tax system. This policy behavior is a huge problem.
The truth is that Keynes himself never suggested an economy run a perpetual recession. The fiscal policy prescription is to run a deficit during recessions, run towards a balanced budget in a Goldilocks economy where everything is just right, and run a budget surplus in an overheated, inflationary economy. It seems we never hear any of this from the obnoxious freshman student that sits in the front row and insists his high school reading of Ayn Rand tells him something completely different. We also never hear this from ideologues who really have a completely different agenda in mind. Their agenda is basically just to drown government in the bathtub and they don’t want any thing to work.
The problem is the kids at the Koolaid Table never, ever learn and are more motivated by access to power than access to knowledge. It’s evident in that they keep playing the deficit hawks running around yelling the sky is falling and they’ve done so for about 5 years. Or, as Krugman puts it:
KRUGMAN: “People like me have been saying for five years don’t worry about these deficit things for the time being, they’re non-issues, other people have been saying imminent crisis, imminent crisis … how many times do they have to be wrong and people like me have to be right before people start to believe us?”
Krugman must have an endless amount of patience to continually sit down with a group of these obnoxious freshmen. I wonder at how he does it day-in-and-day-out.