Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Croaking at the Middle East

What Israel is doing in Gaza is an outrage, of course, but it is itself a response to other outrages. Rather than running for high ground, all parties seem to be digging ever deeper into the moral swamp.

How did we get into this mess? It would be bad enough if it were Zionists against Arabs alone. But, of course, the refusal of the West to accept Jewish refugees before and after World War II swelled the number of Zionists with Jewish refugees from Europe. Then the conflict was taken up into the "Cold" War. The USA and the USSR pumped huge amounts of money and training into the conflict. Now it’s become a jihad, with committed fighters and well-funded allies on both sides. So many people have died, wounded, or been displaced that everyone in the region either has been affected or knows someone who has been. Almost everyone is afraid for their own safety and the safety of their family and friends. Many people on both sides want revenge, and Arab ideas of revenge are exceptionally brutal, which in turn provokes brutality from the Israelis. It is going to take miracles, an Arab-Israeli alliance, or a committed alliance outside the region, to stop the conflict.

Now if the Arabs and the Israelis made an alliance, they could tell the rest of the world to take a hike. Be a smart thing to do, really—most of the region’s problems have been the result of interventions to various ends. But it would take leaders with the courage to see beyond revenge.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Krawking on the auto industry

(My comments over in Balloon Juice)

I would say that the Southern Senators who have made this mess are trying to set up a regional monopoly on auto manufacture, and there’s no reason to believe they will succeed in doing anything but making a lot of people miserable; the time for regional monopolies seems to have ended. (Krugman pointed out that the time for regional monopolies in the auto industry seems to have ended at the end of his Nobel lecture, and was immediately misquoted. Go listen to it—-there’s no transcription yet.)

It turns out, by the way, that my call is more properly transcribed as "krawk" or "croak". Krawk!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What the UAW might do

if the auto industry goes into bankruptcy, maybe the unions can go on sit down strike until Obama is inaugurated. Krawk!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Jamie Galbraith on the state of the science of economics

From a New York Times interview with progressive Keynesian Jamie Galbraith, son of the famous Keynesian J. K. Galbraith.

Deborah Solomon: "Do you find it odd that so few economists foresaw the current credit disaster?"
Jamie Galbraith: "Some did. The person with the most serious claim for seeing it coming is Dean Baker, the Washington economist. I saw it coming in general terms."

DS: "But there are at least 15,000 professional economists in this country, and you’re saying only two or three of them foresaw the mortgage crisis?"
JG: "Ten or 12 would be closer than two or three."

DS: "What does that say about the field of economics, which claims to be a science?"
JG: "It’s an enormous blot on the reputation of the profession. There are thousands of economists. Most of them teach. And most of them teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless."


Friday, December 5, 2008


These are some comments I made in various other blogs that I think are good enough to stand on their own, here.

Paul Krugman, in a note on the greatness of Keynes, quotes Upton Sinclair:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
More than salary, even, it strikes at pride. It is the journeyman's arrogance: the feeling that because of their intimate knowledge of their work, that they have nothing to learn, and they are doing everything perfectly. Isn't something like that at the core of many "information-and-markets" arguments? The idea that the people in the market know not just a lot of their business, but everything about it, and how their businesses relate to all other businesses?

In his admirable mea culpa on the ongoing economic disaster, Brad Delong wrote, "We could have interrupted this chain that has gotten us here at any of a number of places. And I still am trying to figure out why we did not."

Surely, widespread corruption and a lack of the old conservative virtues? It is enough to make one believe in demonic tempters! We'd spent decades persuading ourselves of a number of things that were plainly false: most significantly that unregulated markets somehow can discipline themselves. It seems to me that in the second half of the 20th century, the USA mass culture went from a belief, at both the individual and social levels, in intense harsh self-discipline, to license, without every passing through moderate, sensible self-discipline in the middle. I hope we will see more of that in the future, but I am not hoping too hard; moderation is one of the great philosophical teachings, and one of the ones that seems to most need repeating.
An aside on Obama's personal ideology, over on Digby's blog:
I don't think we know Obama's ideological stance. Like a lawyer avoiding a trial which he could lose, he carefully avoided the judgment of the public on ideology, instead promising an improvement over W. Bush, who the public had already judged and found wanting. And this has won the election. We can only hope he will govern well. Early signs are promising. I worry, however, that like LBJ and Lincoln, Obama is making too many concessions to the militarists and the authoritarians--opponents implacably opposed to all moderate policies.

The Future

Brad Delong asks, "The Obama administration is going to be rebuilding and reconstructing five major sectors of the American economy. It has no choice--there is no other option. It has to remake: autos, housing finance, high finance, energy, and--the big one—-health care. On what principles and through what procedures is this extraordinary exercise in structural economic reform policy going to be accomplished?" This sparked the following reflection on my part:
Paging Fredrich Hayek... Because, the truth of the matter is, you hominids can't know what will work. OK, you know how to run a state health-care service, and a state bank. The rest is all changing very rapidly. It's time to start Al Gore's Manhattan Project for alternative energy. The new urban designs, architecture, transit systems, and, of course, energy systems will all come out of that work. Meantime, prop up what you can, but don't get too attached to it; a lot of it is not going to last.