Archive

  • DEFENDING BUSH FROM...

    DEFENDING BUSH FROM JONAH'S SMEARS. I think Jonah Goldberg 's notion that the Bush administration has erred by emphasizing democracy over other liberal values -- the rule of law, pluralism, etc. -- is appealing, but basically mistaken. I also thing he's missing the point that this has actually become a fairly standard attack on Bush from important left-of-center circles. My argument on this score, which I've made before, is basically stolen from Thomas Carothers , the Carnegie Endowment's rule-of-law guy, who's neither a Bush fan nor (as you can tell from his job description) one inclined to overlook the importance of the rule of law. The basic problem here is that contrary to the impression one gets from, say, Fareed Zakaria 's book, liberal autocracy, while certainly a conceptual possibility, doesn't seem to be much of an empirical possibility. If you're compiling a list of modern liberal autocracies, you're going to start with Singapore and you're going to end with . . . Singapore...
  • MORE ON THE...

    MORE ON THE MINIMUM. Will Wilkinson is a bit exercised because my argument against the minimum wage wasn't a bulletproof econometric conclusion to the minimum wage debate -- also, because he appears to not understand that an argument against obvious correlation isn't an argument for positive correlation. Sigh. This isn't an endable debate. But Will's argument against me is one of the more frustrating turns in it, an oversimplified appeal to "economics 101." So let's have a lesson... First, there is no hard and fast law that "as the price of something goes up, consumers will tend to buy less of it." It's a good guideline, but it's got no end of exceptions. It's well understood, for instance, that many companies overprice luxury goods because consumers use cost as a heuristic for quality, and often purchase greater quantities of products priced expensively to signal their worth. Cost and demand exhibit no clean inverse relationship, and consumers and producers react neither rationally...
  • BUSH AND HISTORY....

    BUSH AND HISTORY. Ever since Bush turned unpopular and conservatives conveniently decided that Bush wasn't a conservative after all, a lot of liberals have been trying to nail down the argument that, no, the failures of today's GOP just are the failures of conservatism. I think Alan Wolfe writing in the new Washington Monthly does the best job I've seen yet. Among other things, the article just includes a lot of great quips. The lead quip, though, is actually something I have complicated views about: "Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes what George W. Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his administration." I just may be that pundit. My view, unpopular though it is, is that the historical trajectory of Bush's reputation is going to roughly resemble what's happened with Woodrow Wilson , a pretty awful President who seems to be well-regarded because he basically put a lot of appealing-sounding ideas in play that later politicians turned into...
  • BEST. TERRORIST. EVER....

    BEST. TERRORIST. EVER. That's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , according to George Will . Or at least he's "the most effective terrorist in history." That seems misguided. Zarqawi's dead. What's more, I'm quite certain that his long-term goal of constructing a pan-Islamic neo-Caliphate or whatever isn't actually going to be achieved. Where's the love for Michael Collins or Haganah -era David Ben-Gurion ? They both managed to more-or-less get what they wanted by recognizing that maximum violence and maximum unwillingness to compromise aren't actually the best approach to these questions? Or were they so successful that none dare call it terrorism? --Matthew Yglesias
  • Is Bernanke Promoting Inflation?

    There is an interesting aspect to the recent rise in the inflation rate that the media have not really explored. The biggest factor in the higher than expected May measure was a jump in rent. (The two rental indices, owners' equivalent rent and rent proper, account for nearly 40 percent of the core consumer price index [CPI].) One explanation for more rapid increases in rents is that people who cannot afford to buy houses, due to higher mortgage rates, are now looking to rent. The Census Bureau's data on vacancy rates gives us evidence to support this position. Rental vacancy rates have fallen by almost a full percentage point from their record high 10.4 percent in the first quarter of 2004. At the same time, the vacancy rate in ownership units has increased from 1.7 percent to 2.1 percent over this period. (There are twice as many ownership units as rental units, so the overall vacancy rate is basically the same over this period.) Insofar as this story is true, it implies a very...
  • Great Political Caricature, Courtesy of David Brooks

    In his New York Times column today, "Changing Bedfellows", David Brooks did a far better job describing the nanny state conservatives' framing of economics than I could ever hope to do in my book. Of course, he ostensibly was saying how the world actually is, rather than how the nanny state conservatives want us to see it. According to Brooks, we have the populist nationalists who argue against immigration and trade, and want to ensure workers' security through Social Security and national health care insurance. This group includes Pat Buchanan, Lou Dobbs, Al Sharpton and Kevin Phillips. On the other side, we have the progressive globalists, who want to expand trade and allow immigration in order to promote economic growth. This group includes Hillary Clinton, Mark Warner, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. It's great caricature, a perfect example of the framing that I criticized in my book, The Conservative Nanny State : How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer [...
  • THE TWO CULTURES....

    THE TWO CULTURES. Like Bryan Curtis , I've been puzzling recently over the apparent upsurge in intellectuals' interest in soccer. I don't think I really understood it, though, until I read this Frank Foer post noting that "[s]occer is largely immune from sabermatrics and other instantiations of mathematical nerdiness." There, I think, is the rub. The rise of analytic approaches to sports has been, in my opinion, an excellent development. But for a certain segment of literary types in America it's produced a crisis. Baseball turns out to be the most quantifiable of all major sports which has seriously threatened its status as a pretext for long-winded airy writerly musings. Football and basketball aren't far behind in coming to be dominated by pundits arguing that most of the Dallas Mavericks' "defensive improvement is an illusion" that vanishes once you adjust for pace factor and look at efficiency rather than raw points, and counter-arguing that the sample size was too small . Only...
  • MORE GITMO. An...

    MORE GITMO. An Afghan government delegation says they'd just as soon not have their citizens held indefinitely in legal limbo on an American Navy base in Cuba. What's more, "about half of them were not guilty of serious crimes." Fortunately, "the officials said the Afghan detainees were not being held in bad conditions." Except, of course, for the sense in which being imprisoned for years without trial is a pretty bad condition. --Matthew Yglesias
  • THE MINIMUM WAGE....

    THE MINIMUM WAGE. To follow up on Matt 's post below, while reasonable people can disagree on the impact of minimum wage laws, it's time they stopped. William Niskanen , in arguing against a federal boost to the wage, trots out the same old canards about wage increases decimating jobs. And yes, if you jack the wage up to $16 an hour, jobs will be lost. But up to $7 over a period of years? The evidence doesn't back him up. And, luckily, it's so easy to check that you folks can play along at home. Just crosscheck this list of state minimum wage laws with this rundown of state unemployment rates. The lowest unemployment rate in the country is Hawaii's 2.8 percent, which somehow survives with their $6.75 minimum wage. Second lowest? Florida, with a luxurious $6.40 per hour. Vermont, resting comfortably at number 5, has a minimum wage of $7.40! And the very highest unemployment in the nation? Mississippi, with no minimum wage laws at all. And this is how it is. The minimum wage, of course...
  • THE QUEEN RANIA...

    THE QUEEN RANIA FACTOR. I was in Whole Foods the other day, like a good out-of-touch elitist, shopping for cheese, and at the checkout stand I saw a glamour shot of Queen Rania of Jordan on the cover of Washington Life magazine. I have to say that I've long been bugged by Western elites' fascination with this particular queen. Here she is hanging out with Bill Clinton , Bill Gates , and George Soros . And here she is with Laura Bush . Here she's written up in Hello magazine. She's a bipartisanly loved celebrity -- everyone thinks she's great! And she certainly is good looking and appears to be involved in some worthwhile charitable endeavors. But here's the thing. As you'll recall, pretty much everyone nowadays is in some sense interested in promoting democratic reform in the Arab world. And Queen Rania isn't a fun cosmetic constitutional monarch like you have in England or Spain. She and her husband are actually existing despots who make their living exploiting the productive members...

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