Archive

  • Correction: Productivity Growth Clocks in at 3.2 Percent

    I plead guilty to the same sort of sloppiness I have noted elsewhere. Earlier this week I commented on the coverage of Commerce Department's release of data for March on consumer spending and prices. I then noted that the consensus forecasts for first quarter productivity growth appeared to be too high. I based this on the fact that the hours data reported in the monthly employment reports indicated that hours were growing at close to a 4.0 percent annual rate in the quarter. As it turned out, hours growth was reported as 2.5 percent. What went wrong? Well, the hours data that go into the published index in the employment reports are for production and non-supervisory workers in private non-farm employment. That means that the index excludes the impact of changes in employment and hours for production and supervisory workers. (There are also some private sector workers who are not in the business sector, for example workers in non-profit universities or hospitals.) Since the vast...
  • REGARDING STALINIST AESTHETICS....

    REGARDING STALINIST AESTHETICS. Of course Noam Scheiber 's all wrong about Stephen Colbert 's performance on Saturday, but his invocation of "Stalinist aesthetics" provides the pretext to discuss another burning politico-cultural issue: Neil Young 's new album . I've been having this argument offline with my cubicle-mate Fast Leon ever since he plugged the album on Tapped, and had thought it judicious to keep my thoughts offline given that it's off-message and wankerific to disparage the righteous Bush -bashing efforts of an iconic rock star. But no more: This album is awful. Scott Lemieux , among others, has written eloquently before about the right's weakness for hyper-philistinism on questions of culture; aesthetic considerations are completely abandoned and art is reduced entirely to politics -- and usually politics on the vulgar, daily-muck level of the latest RNC talking points. It�s anti -art in basic ways. The Right Brothers are basically the perfect embodiment of this...
  • MEXICO'S NON-DECRIMINALIZATION. You...

    MEXICO'S NON-DECRIMINALIZATION. You may have heard that Mexico is legalizing drugs. Certainly, I've seen that reported in the press. The thing is, this is apparently not true and much less is changing than most people think. Mark Kleiman explains . --Matthew Yglesias
  • Corruption in the Pharmaceutical Industry: Why Is Anyone Surprised?

    The New York Times has run many excellent articles over the years describing various forms of corruption in the pharmaceutical industry. (The latest describes the battle over monitoring the prescribing practices of individual physicians.) The one thing missing from these articles is any economic analysis. Every person who has suffered through an introductory economics class has heard the story about how government intervention in the market leads to corruption. Economists always rant above how trade protection or various forms of government regulation inevitably lead to gaming of the system and rent-seeking behavior. If we expect to see such corruption when a tariff or quota raises clothes prices by 15-20 percent, why wouldn't we expect to see such corruption when drug patents raise prices by 200 percent or more? Calling government protection a "patent" or defining it as an "intellectual property right" does not change the economic model one iota. The sort of incentive for corruption...
  • Open Borders Versus Die at the Border: Can't Experts See the Difference?

    I just heard economics commentator Chris Farrell on Marketplace talking about the United States open border immigration policy, under which ambitious hardworking immigrants can freely enter the country. Excuse me, but what planet is this guy on? Open borders mean that a Mexican doctor, an Indian lawyer, a Brazilian economics commentator can come across the border in any form of transportation they like, and work wherever they like, at whatever pay they are willing to accept. The United States does not have this policy or anything like it. It has a policy that sharply limits legal opportunities for working in the country. The policy is that if you are willing to risk death in a dangerous border crossing and risk facing deportation at any time, then you can work in some sectors of the economy illegally. Doctors, lawyers, and economic commentators in the developing world are not willing to take these risks. Furthermore, the businesses that hire such people are not willing to risk the...
  • MY POINT EXACTLY....

    MY POINT EXACTLY. I think Fast Leon 's making my case for me . Best as I can tell, genocide isn't the issue in Sudan at this point. Rather, the two sides are wrangling over the terms of a political resolution to the conflict. The United States has a point of view that's more favorable to the Darfur rebel groups than does the African Union, and the rebels are engaged in tactical gambits to try and win more concessions. Perhaps the American position on this is warranted, but either way it's just not the case that Khartoum is hell-bent on perpetuating the slaughter and only unilateral use of force -- or even increased pressure on the Sudanese government in any form -- can make it stop. The rallies and so forth seem to be coming too late and operating off outdated talking points, and an awful lot of folks (not the ralliers, though) are more interested in the issue's potential as a rhetorical bludgeon to be used against UNniks and Iraq War opponents than they are in anything relating to...
  • MORE ON ABUJA....

    MORE ON ABUJA. Just to respond to Matt , this update on the Abuja negotiations from the Sudan Tribune seems to indicate that the rebels� initial rejection of an African Union draft accord was a tactically wise move. Since the U.S. delegation arrived on Monday, the A.U. draft has been scrapped. It seems that Robert Zoellick and Co. have effectively sidelined the A.U., making the Abuja agreement a thoroughly American affair. And the Americans, much more than the A.U., have been able to wriggle more concessions out of Khartoum than the A.U. could have hoped for. The rebels now have a much more appealing document to sign. --Mark Leon Goldberg
  • DAVID IGNATIUS: MCCAIN'S...

    DAVID IGNATIUS: MCCAIN'S A MAVERICK BECAUSE I LIKE HIM. A quick point to add to Matt 's deft skewering of David Ignatius 's column on John McCain. What's amazing is that Ignatius is saying the jury's out on whether McCain will prove in the future to be adequately capable of flip-flopping -- yet in the same column, Ignatius also lists two instances where McCain already flip-flopped. Ignatius writes: "Some people...have a knack for making easy compromises on the road to election, but McCain isn't one of them." Yet earlier Ignatius had already pointed to two of McCain's "easy compromises": his recent sucking up to Jerry Falwell and his vote to make President Bush 's tax cuts permanent "despite his own past warnings about the country's fiscal mess." But these, well, they don't really count because...McCain apparently didn't enjoy doing this. This begs a question. How many times does McCain have to flip-flop or betray stated principles before columnists like Ignatius will stop saying that...
  • OFF THE RESERVATION....

    OFF THE RESERVATION. I'm sorry to admit that I'm edging into full-blown Chomsky ism, but I totally don't understand why we're even debating whether or not to bomb Khartoum when the Sudanese government's already agreed to disarm the Janjaweed and halt the killing in Darfur, only to have an African Union-approved peace plan rejected by Darfuri rebels. If we're going to threaten to bomb anyone, shouldn't it be the side refusing to make peace rather than the side that has Arabs on it? Meanwhile, I used Iraq hawks as my foil in this week's column but it's actually a better argument with regard to Darfur. The WHO says we could prevent over 400,000 measles deaths annually if someone would pony up an additional $332 million in funding. Wouldn't that be easier than intervening in Sudan? Save more lives? Anyone? Also, yeah, before we start killing people to stop Darfuris from dying, why not send food to starving Darfuris ? Wouldn't that be easier than bombing? Cheaper? More helpful? --Matthew...
  • THE BEST COVER...

    THE BEST COVER EVER. Via Atrios , I see HuffPo contributor Philip Weiss has some concerns about Kenneth Pollack 's new book, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America : I just got a copy of Ken Pollack's latest book on Iran, The Persian Puzzle, and was shocked on flipping to page 429, the Author's Note at the end of the book, to read that Pollack has never been to Iran and doesn't speak Persian, has only dribs and drabs of Arabic. You'd think a book that purports to explain the "Persian Puzzle" might have offered that disclaimer at the front. Pollack is an influential intellectual. As a scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution, whatever liberal means these days, he advocated invasion of Iraq in the book The Threatening Storm, back in 2002, thereby giving crucial centrist support to the neocons. Pollack argued that the way to peace in the Middle East lay through Baghdad. I.e., convert the Arabs to democracy there and everything else will fall into place. That book...

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