economist

Something Going On (Asymetrically Intriguing)

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs before speaking to supporters at the Human Rights Campaign Breakfast in Washington, October 3, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

This is the thing: While it is easy enough to get lost in the spectacular noise and bluster, the breathtaking incoherence and disbelief, something does seem to have happened. Jonathan Chait dove in last month, noting, “The most important substantive problem facing political journalists of this era is asymmetrical polarization”. And to a certain degree, Chait is vital, here, because of something else he wrote, all of several days before:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major-party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print-news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Nor need one be any manner of confessed media elitist; outside the circles where people perpetually complain about the media, news consumers are more than a little puzzled―indeed, some or maybe even many are alarmed―about what they are witnessing.

Part of the problem, of course, is asymmetrical polarization; Chait considered the question―

Political journalism evolved during an era of loose parties, both of which hugged the center, and now faces an era in which one of those parties has veered sharply away from the center. Today’s Republican Party now resides within its own empirical alternative universe, almost entirely sealed off from any source of data, expertise, or information that might throw its ideological prior values into question. Donald Trump’s candidacy is the ne plus ultra of this trend, an outlier horrifying even to a great many conservatives who have been largely comfortable with their party’s direction until now. How can the news media appropriately cover Trump and his clearly flawed opponent without creating an indecipherable din of equivalent-sounding criticism, where one candidate’s evasive use of a private email server looms larger than the other’s promise to commit war crimes?

Liz Spayd, the New York Times’ new public editor, dismisses the problem out of hand in a column that is a logical train wreck. Spayd specifically addresses a column by Paul Krugman that lambastes two news investigations into the Clinton Foundation, one of which appeared in the Times. Both reports dug deep and found nothing improper, but instead of either walking away from the dry holes or writing an exculpatory story, dressed them up with innuendo. These stories supply a prime example of the larger critique often grouped under the heading of “false equivalence”―journalists treating dissimilar situations as similar, in an attempt to balance out their conclusions. Spayd dismisses false equivalence as liberal whining, without in any way engaging with its analysis.

―in the wake of a New York Times dispute between public editor Liz Spayd and columnist Paul Krugman.

(more…)

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The Messenger

Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall, in undated photo from Bloomberg News.

This is not surprising:

The economist that Republicans handpicked to run the Congressional Budget Office just told Republicans that one of their favorite arguments about Obamacare is wrong.

According to a report the CBO released Friday, repealing the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t reduce the deficit, as Republicans have long claimed. It would increase the deficit, by at least $137 billion over 10 years and maybe a lot more than that — with the effects getting bigger over time.

Of course, that’s in addition to the effect repeal would have on the number of Americans without health insurance. The CBO says the ranks of the uninsured would increase by 19 million people next year.

(Cohn)

While it doesn’t necessarily count as a surprise, there is still one mystery here: How does this keep happening?

After all, conservatives have a rough tradition of aiming to subordinate reality to politics in public service, with inconsistent results because enough of these appointed servants still remember what they’re on about. And once again, there is simply no way to twist reality to suit Republican fancy; after all their effort to find a CBO director who would say all the things they want, Keith Hall just couldn’t do it.

We might, then, wonder why they bother trying this sleight in the first place.

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Image note: Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall, in undated photo from Bloomberg News.

Cohn, Jonathan. “Obamacare Repeal Would Swell The Deficit Even Using GOP’s New Math, Budget Office Says”. The Huffington Post. 19 June 2015.

A Quote: Blessed are the Whonow?

Money money money money ... money!

“Unhappy with the economic recovery in the United States? Could be worse.

“Specifically, we could be literally any other country in the world that also just went through a major financial crisis.”

Catherine Rampell

‘Tis a fair point.

Seven years after the credit bubble burst, just two of the 12 countries that went through systemic financial meltdowns in 2007 and 2008 have reclaimed enough ground to reach their previous peaks in per-capita GDP: the United States and Germany. And Germany isn’t looking so hot these days, given that it’s teetering on the edge of deflation.

Many of the other countries that also went through “systemic crises” — as categorized by the work of Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff — still have years to go before fully recovering. The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Ukraine will likely wait until 2018 before reaching their pre-crisis peaks in per capita GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. Even countries that didn’t technically experience a systemic crisis when we did (such as China and Japan) appear to be in serious trouble. As the Economist recently put it, the United States is looking increasingly like a “lonely locomotive.”

It is something to bear in mind when we hear people complain about the economy. However, the flipside is pretty straightforward, as well: The gains are all going to the top. The idea that the economy is flying has little visible effect in the daily lives of many workers, though they have jobs and ought to be thankful and all that other stuff that we are supposed to acknowledge in lieu of pointing out that even still many to most workers are existing under conditions of wage stagnation while already being underpaid. That the economy is flying is a great reason for your rent to go up, and, apparently, a terrible reason for your wages to increase.

Still, though, the numbers are there; we cannot blame everything on the government. Some of this we need private-sector executives to answer for.

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Rampell, Catherine. “How the U.S. economy got its mojo back”. The Washington Post. 1 December 2014.