Archive

  • THE TURTLEDOVE STYLE...

    THE TURTLEDOVE STYLE IN AMERICAN POLITICS. Jon Chait has a new entry in the popular progressive genre of "If Only We'd Lost." In it, he argues that beating Gerald Ford in 1976 was a grievous blow to liberalism. Jimmy Carter , after all, was a disaster for the Democratic Party, if only because he presided over a period of economic duress (stagflation) and national diminishment (Iranian hostage crisis). That Carter handled both with relative good sense -- the Iranian hostages, in particular, benefitted from his unwillingness to enter a deadly and disastrous war -- did nothing for his national standing or the party he hailed from. That said, there are a thousand of these moments scattered throughout the 20th century. If either or both Kennedys hadn't been shot, for instance. Or if Reagan 's assassin had been deadlier. Or if Clinton had lost to George H.W Bush , forestalling the 1994 Republican Revolution and the decade's scandals. Or if the Supreme Court hadn't appointed George W. Bush...
  • INVEST IN COPPERTONE.

    INVEST IN COPPERTONE. Happy new year to Tapped readers; I hope 2006 went well and 2007 will be even more joyful and prosperous. Not to be a downer, but one thing 2007 promises to be, if the year gone by is any indication, is hot. According to the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2006 is expected to be judged the sixth hottest year on record . (Based on preliminary analyses; final data analyses and reports won't come out until March.) As for Arctic ice content -- which, as anyone who saw Al Gore 's painfully brilliant documentary An Inconvenient Truth knows, is dwindling -- in its "Statement on the Status of the global Climate in 2006," the WMO concludes: The year 2006 continues the pattern of sharply decreasing Arctic sea ice. The average sea-ice extent for the entire month of September was 5.9 million km�, the second lowest on record missing the 2005 record by 340.000...
  • Members of Congress Are Politicians: Not Political Philosophers

    Well, it's still New Year's Day and I see that someone is already breaking my resolutions (#10) for economic reporting. A New York Times article tells readers that the battle in Congress over the Medicare drug bill, "highlights the profound differences between Democrats and Republicans over the future of the nation�s health care system, the proper role of government and the role of private markets in securing the best value for the huge sums spent on health care." Hmmm, do members of Congress sit down and contemplate what their ideal vision of a health care system is, or do they get lobbyists calling them with threats and promises in order to get them to vote in certain ways? I would suspect the latter, but we could be polite and just note that some members of Congress (nearly all of whom were Republicans) chose to support a bill that meant higher profits for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Did they do this because of their political philosophy? Why not just leave that...
  • Health Care Reform: Is the Obstacle Politics or Ignorance?

    The New York Times had a column Sunday that pointed out that other wealthy countries have better health care outcomes than the United States, at a much lower per person cost. While the column included much useful information, it concluded that the main obstacle to reform in the United States is that the public does not have confidence in a government managed health care system. I would suggest an alternative hypothesis -- the vast majority of the public has no idea how inefficient the U.S. health care system is relative to the systems elsewhere in the world. I have been reading the NYT almost every day for more than 30 years; this is one of the few times I can recall any mention of the relative inefficiency of the U.S. health care system. On the rare occasions when the NYT talks about the health care system in another wealthy country (e.g. Canada, Sweden, England), the article is usually focused on the system's problems, and generally implies that its demise is imminent. I would be...
  • WE CAN"T AFFORD...

    WE CAN"T AFFORD NOT TO HAVE UNIVERSAL HEATHCARE : To follow up on Atrios and Ezra , let me carry the stats in this Times article one step further. Let's use their figures to extrapolate government health care spending per capita: United States $2745 France $2464 Canada $2215 Again, our system doesn't just spend far more money than France's much better system and Canada's heavily flawed but still better system, but more government money. And as Krugman says today: Part of the answer is that our fragmented system has much higher administrative costs than the straightforward government insurance systems prevalent in the rest of the advanced world. As Anna Bernasek pointed out in yesterday�s New York Times, besides the overhead of private insurance companies, �there�s an enormous amount of paperwork required of American doctors and hospitals that simply doesn�t exist in countries like Canada or Britain.� In addition, insurers often refuse to pay for preventive care, even though such care...
  • African Aid in Context

    The Washington Post again committed the cardinal sin of not putting budget numbers in context. It ran an article today touting the doubling of aid to Africa during the Bush administration. While this is mostly good news for the people of the region (restrictons on funding for items like condoms and the usual cronyism make the aid less useful than it might otherwise be), it would be helpful to readers if the article put the money involved in some perspective. The current aid level of about $4 billion comes to about $5 per African. That's helpful, but not exactly a windfall. More importantly people should not be deluded into thinking that this aid is a big deal for the U.S. government. The current appropriation is equal to a bit more than 0.16 percent of federal spending. In other words, we spend just under $9,000 per person, about $14 of this money goes to people in Africa. Since a large portion of the public thinks that foreign aid comprises a large portion of their tax bill, a bit of...
  • The NYT Bungles Social Security Big Time

    The New York Times editorial page has moved far on Social Security, leaving the chorus of crisis mongers to be an important voice of reason in last year's debate. However, it now appears to be regressing. Today's lead editorial notes the plans of Chile's government to overhaul the privatized Social Security system that had served as a model for proponents of privatization in the United States. The basic story is that the system did not deliver -- it was not providing Chile's workers with a secure retirement. While the discussion of Chile is on the money, the piece then goes on to make the case for addressing the projected shortfall in the U.S. system. It argues for the need for a balance of benefit cuts and tax increases to address the projected shortfall. This discussion includes the bizarre assertion that the program would only be able to provide an average replacement rate of 10 percent if its shortfall was addressed with benefit cuts alone. It is not clear where this number comes...
  • Rewriting History on Primary School Enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa

    The NYT has a good article today on the surge in primary school enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa. It points out that after stagnating for nearly two decades, primary school enrollment rates have begun to soar across sub-Saharan Africa. While the article includes much useful information (including the problems providing adequate classroom space, textbooks, and teachers for so many students) it leaves out a very important element in this story. It fails to mention the importance of public protests and pressure from non-governmental organizations in forcing the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to change their policy in this area. Prior to 1998, it was common to include clauses requiring fees for primary school enrollment in the structural agreements that countries signed to get loans from these institutions. The fees would improve a country's financial situation by both raising revenue and reducing enrollment, and therefore the need to pay for public education. Fees for primary...
  • BUT CAN HE...

    BUT CAN HE RAISE TAXES? Mark Schmitt reminds , correctly, that the country will need more than an acceptance of moderate deficits over the next few years: It'll need revenue increases. Whatever enthusiasm John Edwards generates for rejecting fiscal conservatism should be tempered by the knowledge that, without tax increases, he'll have very little room for social spending. Relevant here is a question asked at the press conference following his announcement speech. The reporter asked whether tax increases would be necessary to fund Edwards' social spending. Edwards replied: Well, I'll give you a few examples: We ought to be patriotic as americans, not just as a government, though the government plays a critical role in helping to rebuild New Orleans. We ought to be patriotic in doing something about global warming. And I don't mean in an abstract way -- we walked away from Kyoto unilaterally which was a very serious mistake...[long digression on global warming, which I don't have the...
  • New Year's Resolutions for Economic Reporting

    In the interest of providing the public with better reporting on economic issues the association of economic reporters approved the following list of resolutions for 2007: (Okay, no such association exists and this list is completely invented, but I can dream.) 1) Put Numbers in Context Virtually no one can attach any meaning to the $40 million appropriation for a particular earmark, the $196 billion transportation budget for the next six years, or the projected $70 trillion budget shortfall over the infinite future. These numbers can be made meaningful by putting them in some context. In the case of budget items, this is probably best done as shares of total spending and/or as per person expenses. In the case of deficits, the appropriate denominator is GDP over the relevant time frame (annual GDP for a current year deficit, all future GDP for an infinite horizon calculation). These calculations require almost no extra time from reporters and zero extra space (substitute a percentage...

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