Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Intervention in the Middle East

Comment from an FDL discussion of the ethics of the military intervention in Libya (Jane Hamsher is against it):
But I’m wondering what the smart folks here think the U.S. response to all these rebellious and seemingly democratic movements in the M.E. and Africa ought to be? (RFShunt, ***)
My general take on this is that peaceful support of freedom and democracy is always both ethical and, in the long term, most likely to produce the best results for the USA and the world, in many different ways.

Violence is a much harder question. I do not think it wise for the world to sit by while mass murder is done, but the why and how of military intervention troubles me. In theory, the United Nations exists partly to prevent exactly what the UN has so far prevented Qaddafi from doing. For this to end well though, military intervention has to be undertaken in the right way, and it is probably best it is undertaken for the right reasons. Right reasons we can fairly say we don’t have here: none of the leaders of this intervention have clean hands, though it is possible that Obama and Clinton are motivated by a genuine desire to see justice done. Obama does have his moments, and this may be one of them. Based on her history, I think Hilary Clinton is also motivated by humanitarian concerns. However, they can only get support for this because the US hawks are also interested in intervention, and their reasons are far less savory. As to the right way, the UN would have to provide disinterested support for freedom and democracy in Libya, and the support would have to be enough and last long enough for the rebels to win. Disinterested support for freedom and democracy isn’t in the picture, and enough support for enough time also may not be–wars are expensive.

So it’s going to depend. This is not badly begun, but I do not, personally, have much hope that it will end well.

Well, what do you expect from a raven?


Friday, March 25, 2011

When you stare into ALEC, ALEC stares back into you

University of Wisconsin professor of history William Cronon, staring into ALEC:
After watching the sudden and impressively well-organized wave of legislation being introduced into state legislatures that all seem to be pursuing parallel goals only tangentially related to current fiscal challenges–ending collective bargaining rights for public employees, requiring photo IDs at the ballot box, rolling back environmental protections, privileging property rights over civil rights, and so on–I’ve found myself wondering where all of this legislation is coming from.
And ALEC staring back.
Here’s the headline: the Wisconsin Republican Party has issued an Open Records Law request for access to my emails since January 1 in response to a blog entry I posted on March 15 concerning the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in influencing recent legislation in this state and across the country. I find this a disturbing development, and hope readers will bear with me as I explain the strange circumstances in which I find myself as a result.
Via Josh Marshall at TPM. Personally, I think ALEC could do with some attention from the police, or at least Anonymous and Wikileaks.

A further reaction

President Obama spent many years associated with the University of Chicago. To what extent did the arrogance and elitism of the Chicago-school economists influence his thinking, and to what extent does their current despair, denial, and anger influence his governing?

Saltwater, Freshwater, and Economic Policy: a reaction to a Brad Delong interview

[Welcome, visitors from Paul Krugman's blog.  Your comments are welcome, but this is an old post—auto-moderation kicks in. I will release your comments when I see them or you can comment on the new post here.]

The interview was conducted by Jay Ackroyd of Virtually Speaking, you can listen to it here (audio at link) or download it from iTunes as a podcast, and I hope you will do one or the other--in my opinion it is the best discussion I've heard of the personalities and politics involved in the recent and on-going economic meltdown.

My understanding of part of what was said was that Prof Delong and the other saltwater economists for a long time believed that they were engaged in an intellectual dispute with the moderate conservatives. The freshwater economists, however, believed that they had The Truth, and that Keynsianism would fall as surely as the Soviet Union did; that analogy may even have figured in their thinking. They believed that they were wise adults willing to face hard truths, the saltwater economists were foolish, weak children, and events would prove them right. Delong's description of what what Prof. Robert Lucas thought of Prof. Christine Romer's support of the stimulus was chilling in its contempt for Romer: by Delong's account Lucas believed Romer was lying when she supported the stimulus.

I wonder if the thought processes of the freshwater school were not an elevated version of those the hardcore tea partiers: a threatened sense of privilege and contempt for the weakness of their opponents. It is hard for me not to see this as fitting into a pattern of threatened male privilege, though in some cases sexism was not the core of the belief.

The freshwater economists are now faced with incontrovertible proof that they were wrong and the saltwater school was right. Their reactions, it seems to me, are no different than what anyone wedded to an inflated idea of their self-worth. Not only were they wrong, they have lost the argument to people they feel are their intellectual inferiors and to women. They are angry and denying, denying, denying.

The saltwater school, on the other hand, is having to reevaluate a great many of their ideas, not the least about collegiality and scientific epistemology. The recognition of the contempt in which their colleagues held them has to be a shock to many; I think I detect traces of it in Delong's writing, and in Prof. Krugman's. Likewise, the recognition that many freshwater economists were not thinking scientifically at all, but rather bound by prejudice and intellectual rigidity seems to have come as a shock. It is very much to Prof. Delong's credit that he is willing to consider these realities.

There is also a practical problem, if economics as a discipline is to survive. There is a huge amount of junk in the peer-reviewed economics literature--the reviewing process is no protection when the reviewers themselves are prejudiced. A comparison that comes to mind is the collapse of "scientific" eugenics. There were vast amounts of that written, and now it is only read as an object example of the capture of a social science by prejudice and authoritarianism. For economists, meantime, there is a huge task ahead: the garbage must be taken out; removed from the field's teaching, textbooks, and policy advice. It will be a generation at least before this is set right, if indeed it can be set right at all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Croak of the Day: Mark Thoma, "Revealed Preference"

Well, yesterday, anyway. "We have enough money to pay for military action in Libya, but not for job creation?"--from Mark Thoma's excellent economics blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bought Men? A Brief Note on the Fascist Revolution

In every state where the Tea Party Republicans have come to power, they have attempted to put the same program into practice: breaking the public employee unions, mass firings, weird anti-abortion laws. Apparently, this is a coordinated program from the Koch Party's American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC.) Very dirty money. And since when does private industry make policy? But I wonder...just how many of the Tea Party Republicans are directly or indirectly in the pay of the groups that support ALEC? It would explain their remarkable solidarity. These people are in the state legislatures, making enemies of their neighbors. If this was simple crazy ideology they would be concerned about their chances for re-election, and work after they leave public office. Yet they do not seem to be, and I wonder if this is because they are paid, and expect to be well-paid in the future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Alternative Energy: Hard Choices for Hominids

You hominids have a deadlock in the politics of power generation. In the USA, at least, activism has stopped nuclear plant construction. This turns out to have been the energy equivalent of Norquist's "starve the beast," and it has worked about as well. You have ended up relying heavily on coal for electric power generation and oil for transportation, which, in the amounts used, are as or more harmful as nuclear power.    

There is much talk about sustainable energy production, and there have been some substantial successes in those technologies, but you are not ready to convert your whole economy to sustainable energy production. Partly, this is because sustainable energy has to be gathered, whereas fossil fuel and nuclear fuel contain energy which need only be released: without a "carbon tax" or some similar regulation, sustainable energy sources will always be more expensive. Partly, though, the conservatives in Congress have been successful in preventing the research necessary to widespread deployment of sustainable energy production. Your economic models do not, yet, embrace sustainability.    

So you are faced with hard choices. To stop using coal, oil, or nuclear power immediately would mean great hardship. Without international agreements to prevent further development of such systems, action in an single country might in any event be futile except perhaps as an example. And yet if human civilization is to survive, this must be undertaken in the long term.

One thing that could be done in the short term in the United States would be to abandon the tax subsidies for resource extraction. They started as World War I production subsidies, and ever since, conservatives have been defending them. This might be an excellent time to attack these. They could be attacked on libertarian grounds as government subsidies. It might just work.