Archive

  • Did the Washington Post Lose Russia?

    Well, they certainly seem to have lost the ability to talk about it coherently. The peaceful disintegration of the Soviet Union and the subsequent course of Russian history is a remarkable story. Unfortunately, one gets very little of the real picture in the Washington Post's piece marking the 15th anniversary of the collapse. For most of the Russian people, the main story is a devastating economic collapse, which led to a decline in per capita GDP of more than one-third from 1990 to 1996. The standard of living for the typical Russian might have fallen even more sharply, as a small group of well-connected business people sezied control of much of the country's wealth. This is indicated by the extraordinary drop in life expectancy in Russia. As the box accompanying the article shows, life expectancy for men fell from 61.9 years in 1992 to 58.9 years in 2004. For women, the drop was from 73.7 years to 72.3 years. Russia's economy has since rebounded, regaining most of the lost ground...
  • Nonsense on Oil and the Dollar

    The BBC had a short article on the possibility that Venezuela will shift from trading its oil in dollars to trading in euros. This article gives me an opportunity to trash two common myths about the meaning of such a shift among producers. The first issue is the importance of the shift to the value of the dollar. A story often circulated across the web is that there will be dire consequences for the dollar if oil producers made this shift. Some simply arithmetic should quickly eliminate such concerns. Currently oil consumption is about 85 million barrels a day. Let�s assume that a bit more than half, or 45 million barrels a day, crosses international borders. Now, let�s say that the bill for this trade is all paid on the same day of the month everywhere in the world. This would mean that if all payments were made in dollars, oil consumers would need to come up with $81 billion (45 million barrels*$60 per barrel*30 days) once a month to pay for their oil. World-wide holdings of dollars...
  • THE BILL FACTOR....

    THE BILL FACTOR. People who object to Hillary Clinton 's potential presidential candidacy often do so on the grounds that it will revive media focus on Bill Clinton in a way that will damage her and Democrats generally, not to mention drag America back into a deeply annoying and contentious moment in our past. Some different woman candidate, one not married to a former president -- and, specifically, not married to him -- might have a less controversial time of it, according to this line of thinking, because her husband would be less of an issue. To them I would suggest: Take a look at what happened to Geraldine Ferraro . I was reminded of what a major issue her husband became in her 1984 campaign this morning while reading a journalism history book , and it's a history worth considering. Even today, husbands frequently become issues in women's campaigns in ways they don't in those of male candidates (see: Pirro, Jeannine ), because political husbands are more likely than political...
  • TRUTHS ABOUT PHARMA....

    TRUTHS ABOUT PHARMA. A new report out of the GAO sheds some useful light on that majestic pharmaceutical industry everyone's always talking about. The GAO was asked to look into the industry's trends because, despite R&D increases over the past decade, there's been a sustained drop in the number of genuinely new drugs being submitted to the FDA. The culprits? Well, among other things, entirely 68 percent -- more than two-thirds -- of the drug company's new applications are for "me-too" drugs, knockoffs of other company's blockbusters with enough molecular differences that they evade patent restrictions. Such spending, reports the GAO, is safer than socking money into so-called "New Molecular Entities," the drugs with the potential to offer new treatments. Going for new blockbuster drugs (drugs capable of generating $1 billion a year) or knockoffs of old ones is the easier road to profits. Other culprits are a lack of qualified research scientists, technological hurdles, and the...
  • RETURN OF THE...

    RETURN OF THE DRAFT? Even if the Bush administration doesn't support a draft, the Iraq War, the stress it's created on the military, the socioeconomic dispaprities it's laid bare, and all the rest has created a fairly unlikely coalition of folks who do want one. The Bush administration's VA Secretary, Jim Nicholson , just said that our society would benefit from "replacing the all-volunteer force with a tough draft purged of the deferments that allowed many to avoid service in Vietnam." Meanehile, Mark Krikorian wants a draft so we have a bigger military to fight more awesome wars. And Charlie Rangel wants a draft so we have a more diverse military that will make it nearly politically impossible to fight any wars. Meanwhile, I don't want a draft because, unlike Krikorian, Rangel, and Nicholson, I'd actually be vulnerable to it, so such a plan looks less like an awesome political theory abstraction and more like my life would be in the hands of the fools and knaves currently running...
  • DEFICITS DON'T MATTER....

    DEFICITS DON'T MATTER. Nice to see Krugman dismissing the deficit chatter that plagues so many Democrats these days. As he argues, fiscal responsibility has become something of a shell game in contemporary politics, with dutiful Democrats ( Clinton ) cleaning up after profligate Republicans ( Reagan ) only to see their demolished by the next GOPer to take the White House ( Bush 43). Why enable their tax cuts and giveaways? Why indeed? But the argument for largely ignoring the deficit isn't merely political, it's substantive. Deficits don't matter. Interest rates have not skyrocketed as the government " crowded out " private borrowers. The economy has not tumbled in the face of Bush's borrowing. So there's really no urgency in deficit reduction -- the macroeconomy is relatively healthy (though we'll see where housing goes), even if its distribution is quite sick. What there is urgency in is a host of social programs and infrastructure investments long ignored by Republicans and, to...
  • 2004 FORESHADOWED 2006.

    2004 FORESHADOWED 2006. As a follow-up to Sam's point about Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson having argued themselves into a corner on the question of whether the GOP has so many structural advantages that they are somehow unbeatable (something argued more forcefully in Tom Edsall's new book, Building Red America ), in defense of Hacker and Pierson it might be said that theirs is more of an argument about the disconnect between policy reach and electoral-political grasp than the disconnect between a party's popular support and their ability to sustain governing majorities. (Though, of course, the two gaps are interrelated...or damn well should be, in a democracy.) One of the memes I have been pressing (or rather clarifying or reminding) folks is that the 2006 "wave" could be seen in the rather thin victory the Republicans and Bush achieved just two years ago. To recap, on the eve of the 2004 elections the GOP controlled all three branches of government; they had an incumbent president...
  • More Bad News on Productivity?

    While we still may have some surprises in the December data, it looks like 4th quarter GDP growth is likely to come in at under 2.5 percent, driven down by declines in both residential and non-residential construction, as well as a drop in equipment investment. Hours are on track to grow at about a 1.6 percent annual rate, which means that productivity growth for the quarter will be less than 1.0 percent. Yet another quarter of weak productivity should raise some eyebrows. If we take 1.0 percent as the number for the 4th quarter (which is likely high), this would be the picture since the fourth quarter of 2005: 05:4 -- -0.1% 06:1 -- 4.3% 06:2 -- 1.2% 06:3 -- 0.2% 06:4 -- 1.0% This gives an average annual growth rate of just 1.3 percent over these 5 quarters. That compares to more than 3 percent from 2001-2005. But, revisions will make the data look even worse. BLS will add in 810,000 jobs to the establishment survey as of March 2006, in its annual benchmark revision. This will lower...
  • The Iraq War: Misleading Budget Choices

    No one can be happy about the situation in Iraq, but the media do the public a serious disservice when they misrepresent the choices available. The Wall Street Journal commits this sin today when it quotes a senior fellow at a "liberal think tank" as saying "whatever you think should happen in Iraq, the fact is we have troops there and we have to fund them." Actually, we don't have to fund the troops to be in Iraq. If Congress chose, it could summon the commander of our forces to devise a plan for a safe withdrawal of our troops and calculate a price tag. It could then appropriate the money needed to carry through this task -- end of story, end of funding. The senior fellow at a liberal think tank may not like that option, but it is one that exists, and the Wall Street Journal should not have uncritically presented a quote that implied otherwise. --Dean Baker
  • NEXT UP: CA....

    NEXT UP: CA. It's getting a bit hard to keep track of all the universal health care proposals swirling around right now, but it'll be worth watching what Arnold Schwarzenegger announces on January 9th. He's promised to make reform his top priority in the coming year, and he has every incentive to do so: Being the guy who fixed California's health care system and possibly catalyzed the country's switch to UHC is enough to enduringly erase all doubts about the celebrity governor and restore the national profile that got tarnished during his string of 2005 defeats. Of course, Schwarzenegger won't be pursuing this alone. After Massachusetts produced their plan and Mitt Romney received a firestorm of positive press, other governors are eyeing the issue as a way to make their names national, too. So Arnold will want to move quick. How you create universal health care without raising taxes, which he's promised not to do, puzzles me, though. I assume it involves a rocket launcher, or possibly...

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