Framing Things

I’ve been looking for this chart for quite a while, and now I’ve found it. It’s less useful than the But-How-Much-Would-It-Be-As-A-Per-Diem-Since-Jesus’-Birth-Index, but I still find it somewhat illuminating.

As you can plainly see, we’ve done this before. Now, this comes out of a fairly dismal report on long term financial prospects, but again, it’s good to see these things in context.

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American Ignoramus Project

A new ad out from the American Issues Project battles the stimulus plan by arguing that if you spend $1,000,000 per day since the day Jesus was born, it would still be shy of total stimulus bill. Since everyone knows the not in the least bit arbitrary But-How-Much-Would-It-Be-As-A-Per-Diem-Since-Jesus’-Birth-Index is the best way for evaluating large sums of money, I’m sure this trenchant criticism will resonate.

Overwhelmingly Unpopular

Obviously, you’ve seen a lot of griping in this space about poopy-pants Republicans, and recently, poopy-pants centrists, and it’s good to see that I’m not alone.

What’s also interesting is that if I were asked these questions I would probably respond that I disapprove of how all three groups have handled the effort, but obviously I support Obama’s agenda in general, so it’s quite possible this poll actually understates the degree to which people are irritated by obstructionist poopy-pants in Congress.

This also escalates the size of the GOP’s wager that they’ll be able to capitalize on a failed stimulus bill in 2010 and 2012. It was their only hope to begin with, but given that they’re starting a considerable distance behind, they’ll be virtually praying of economic collapse, and failing that, at least scandal.


So, I was in Atlantic City this weekend and thus missed blogging about two major topics: poopy-pants bipartisanship trimming of the stimulus based on political symbolism, and of course, the Grammy’s. Fortunately, my sentiments on both of these topics can be expressed rather succinctly.

Cutting stimulus for the sake of symbolism: stupid. (UPDATE: By the way, for a good take on the inanity of centrism from a bona fide conservative, check out Ross Douthat’s take here.)

Handing out awards for the “best” artists: stupid.

Ok, back on track.


I guess this was yesterday, but damn.

If this doesn’t get the poopy-pants back on track, I’m not sure what will. Nice blend of righteous indignation with dismissive sarcasm that actually exposes the ignorance of a lot of the critics of the bill.

In All Fairness

Just to show everybody I’m not a mindless bleeding heart who takes his marching orders from Liberal High Command, I feel compelled to call out Ezra Klein here.

It should be said that the stimulus really does have some wasteful provisions. Take the $11.5 billion in tax incentives for automobile purchases. As Ryan Avent argues, “the attempt to support automobile purchases is regressive — if you’re comfortable enough to buy a new car in these economic times, you probably aren’t among the most in need of scarce government assistance. It will also fare poorly as stimulus. It’s unclear how many sales might be generated by the plan or whether the number will be large enough to increase production or will merely serve to draw down the massive automobile inventory overhang already sitting on lots.”

And Ezra again…writing yesterday:

From a PR standpoint, the stimulus bill is an almost uniquely hard sell. They’re making sausage without any casings. The thing that the press has taught Americans to hate in the legislative process — the addition of odd, seemingly expensive, random, programs — is the very point of the bill.

I’ll agree from a policy perspective that the last thing we really want to be doing is encouraging the consumption of inefficient cars, but the same Keynsian principle that Ezra earlier identified is at work: if this measure increases consumption of automobiles, which presumably, it should, then it’s getting more cash into the economy, and thus serves a stimulative effect. Now, ideally, all the programs and tax rebates would serve some progressive end or reach optimal stimulative multipliers, but since it’s hard not only to spend $800 billion in 2 years, but hard also to agree what to spend it on, you’re going to have take the good with the bad.

I’m not sure whether Ezra or Ryan Avent would rather have the tax rebate or not — I’m inclined to think so — but it seems to me the bottom line is that the more spending the better, understanding there’s going to be some suboptimal stuff going on.

Against Bipartisanship

Can we officially end this attempt at bipartisanship? It’s obvious the Republicans aren’t going to play ball, and I can’t even say I blame them. If the Republican party wishes to remain a political party, they have to be vindicated in opposition to the stimulus. That is, if massive, Keynsian spending spurs the economy towards growth, the central tenant of Republican economic philosophy will be positively discredited (in addition to being negatively discredited by being in this mess in the first place). It would therefore require genuine altruism on behalf of Republicans to throw their support behind an agenda inimically opposed to their own self preservation. So what you get is one of two things: flat out opposition or foot-dragging that will ultimately make the bill less effective. Neither one of these are in the best interest of the country or the Democratic party, who will be judged on the potency of their reforms.

In the meantime, the GOP has totally derailed conversation on the stimulus to the point where the parlous state of the economy seems completely disconnected amid pedantic debate about condoms.

President Obama: get your shit in order, man.

The Height of Insanity

Republicans haven’t always relied on sound theory or empiricism to support their policy proscriptions, but with their economic and national security policies wildly unsuccessful, they’ve had to resort to some cagey tactics to articulate an opposition. For example, both House and Senate Republicans have taken to cherrypicking and criticizing small portions of the stimulus bill to give the impression that the entire bill is useless. As Steve Benen notes, if you subtract the House Republicans’ objections to the bill, they theoretically support 98 percent of the proposed measures. You’d think that if you supported 98 percent of a bill, you might be inclined to vote for it, but that would be giving House Republicans far too much intellectual credit.

Anyway, John Thune yesterday built the case against stimulus based on the height of the stimulus bill, if you were to stack them in various denominations. Seriously. In attempt to compare apples to apples, Josh Marshall at TPM has come up with a graph of the stacked height of unemployed workers.

As you can see, the bodies are much higher.

Infelicitous Analogies

Ultimately, I think the political winner of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act will be decided in the coming years by progress in the economy, and to a lesser extent, how well the Obama Administration communicates that progress. That said, there’s been some buzz around the office suggesting Obama was quite savvy to have claimed the “moral high ground,” and to have made the House Republicans appear petulant and aloof. I think there’s something to this, and folks like Republican Senator Jim DeMint will only help reinforce that notion with this sort of poopy-pantsing:

This bill is not a stimulus, ladies and gentlemen; it is a mugging. It is a fraud.

Obama really did go out of his way to at least listen to these morons, there were plenty of tax cuts (of the corporate variety to boot!), and he dropped the family planning and mall resodding items which drew such heated ire. What’s more, the bill was crafted in the open; there was no sleight of hand or bait and switch. It was certainly not a mugging, and further, the Republicans refusal to even offer one vote makes it about as far from a fraud as a bill can be.

Of course, I’m still worried that the scale of this recession will afford Republicans an opportunity to say it was a miserable failure, and thus electorally vindicate their poopy-pantsing, but they sure are putting a lot of faith in the gamble (assumung they don’t tepidly support the bill when it goes to conference).

Non Sequiter

Jim Manzi at the Atlantic makes a point about how indebted Americans have become, and how reliant we’ve been on credit to finance economic expansion. No argument there, but I don’t quite understand this correlation.

American consumers are awash in debt, drowning in it. This is the fundamental issue with the stimulus proposal. We’re trying to borrow our way out of debt. Unfortunately, we need a recession. That is, consumption must decline because for some time we have been consuming more than we produce or have reasonable prospects of producing. Monetary policy has been used to inflate a series of bubbles to avoid the consequences of excess debt, and the more we try to hold it off, the worse it’s going to be. Bourbon works as a hangover cure, but only for a while.

It’s theoretically possible for an intelligently-designed stimulus action to help smooth this landing a bit, but we can’t avoid a painful adjustment. Americans are going to live in smaller houses, drive older cars, vacation nearer to home and have less impressive digital camcorders than they expect.

First,  facile comparisons between economic policy at a national level and personal finance obscure far more than they illuminate. The two are not the same, and should not be treated identically. The unenviable position of many American consumers does not mean the United States should not borrow from foreign governments. The Chinese will not break our knee caps if we don’t pay up tomorrow, and they won’t repossess our car. In fact, one of the primary benefits of having a national debt is that the fate of investors in the United States is at least partially tied to our own. Of course foreign investment is not without consequences, but the fact remains that little of the calculus of Joe Debtor borrowing on his ballooning ARM is relevant to discussions of Federal borrowing.

Anyway, and more to the point, this sort of “but it’s not perfect” line has been pervasive in the conservative poopy-pants opposition to the stimulus bill, and it doesn’t make any sense. Nobody is arguing that the stimulus bill will magically return the economy to 1999, or even 2007 levels. But that doesn’t mean fiscal expansion should be forgone because America is due a “painful adjustment.” Indeed, “smooth[ing] the landing,” is perfectly legitimate policy goal when you weigh the consequences of a crash landing.