Archive for the ‘World Events’ Category

Urbanization in China (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

June 16th, 2013 11 comments

The NY Times has an interesting, but unsatisfactory, article, on government attempts to promote urbanization in China, with a target of 70 per cent by 2025. The story is mostly about farmers whose land has been acquired by fiat, which fits into well-established journalistic frames. The bigger issue, buried right near the end, is the fact that, under the hukou system of registration, people classed as rural can’t legally live in the city. So, while about 35 per cent of the population is legally urban, the true figure is more like 53 per cent. That makes nonsense of the figures quoted at the beginning of the article, and the suggestion of forced urbanization on a historically unparalleled scale. In reality, the announced target implies a modest slowdown in rural-urban migration, which has occurred despite official disapproval.

The big question, at least from the viewpoint of rural Chinese, is whether China can shift to a universal social welfare and retirement income system to replace the workplace-based system of social welfare, of which hukou was part, and which made sense with comprehensive state ownership. This topic is touched on in the NYT article, but in a fragmentary and confusing way, and it’s one about which I know little. I’d be grateful if anyone could point to a more comprehensive treatment.

From an Australian point of view, the continued construction of high-rise apartment buildings, highlighted in the article, is a big deal, since it drives much of the demand for steel, and therefore iron ore and coking coal, that has underpinned our amazing run of good economic fortune, along with the willingness of both Australian and Chinese governments to implement large-scale fiscal stimulus at the time of the global financial crisis.

Update Paul Romer makes much the same points, from a more informed perspective than mine.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Freedom is slavery

June 10th, 2013 55 comments

In August 2012, the US House of Representatives voted 414-0 against governments trying to control the Internet

The House resolution calls on U.S. government officials to tell the ITU and other international organizations that it is the “consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control.”

I wonder if we will see more resolutions like this. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Last three on the island (Crosspost from Crooked Timber)

June 2nd, 2013 28 comments

There’s been a spate of recent articles looking at a group of US political writers referred to as “conservative reformers”.

The term ‘reformers’ is misleading since it tends to imply a shift in the direction of liberalism, which is not what the members of this group are hoping to do. More importantly, it implies the existence of a body of orthodox conservative thought against which the reformers are reacting. In reality, US conservatism has returned to the state identified by Trilling ‘ a series of irritable mental gestures. The ‘reformer’ label covers all those self-identified conservatives who would like to present some sort of intellectually coherent policy platform. These days, that’s a surprisingly small set – the typical list includes Douthat, Salam, Ponnuru, Barro, Brooks, Levin, and Dreher.

There used to be many more people in this group. But one by one, they’ve either abandoned ship and moved to the left (Lind, Sullivan, Frum, Bartlett, Ornstein) or descended into outright hackery, an absolute requirement for employment at any of the main rightwing thinktanks (and it’s hard to recall, but there was a time when people like Glenn Reynolds and the Volokhs seemed like serious intellectuals).

Looking at the remaining group, it’s pretty clear that Barro and Dreher are well on the road to apostasy, while Brooks and Levin are now reliable hacks, if they weren’t always. So, that leaves three reformers (Douthat, Salam and Ponnuru) still on the island.

The reactions of the remaining three reveal the pressure they are under. Salam more or less openly shills for the party line from time to time, as in his (now-deleted) attack on the DREAM Act. It seems pretty clear that he will stick with the team, come what may.

Ponnuru responded with the plaintive observation that, to accept the positions being urged on him from the left, he would have to concede that the majority of US conservatives were crazy. But, if craziness is assessed on the basis of stated views, this is evidently true, as Ponnuru surely knows.

Pluralities of US conservatives believe, or at least claim to believe, that:

The President of the US is a socialist Muslim, born in Kenya
The earth is less than 10 000 years old
Mainstream science is a communist plot
Armed revolution will likely be necessary in the near future

Ponnuru hopes that he can engage in serious policy discussion with conservatives while treating such delusional statements as mere shibboleths – harmless assertions of tribal identity

Most interesting is this piece by Ross Douthat, setting out what he sees as the reform conservative policy program. As he observes, it’s not designed to appeal to (US) liberals, and its full of arguments that have been demolished repeatedly by the left.

OTOH, as Douthat admits, there’s no sign that the Republican party has any interest in a program of this kind. More importantly there’s nothing there that would seriously upset a moderate conservative like Obama, or either of the Clintons. It’s well to the left of the revealed preferences of someone like Rahm Emanuel.

Conservative reform of the Republican party is a project that has already failed. The only question is whether the remaining participants will choose hackery or heresy.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Gallipoli and Crimea

April 25th, 2013 75 comments

Thinking about Anzac Day, with the inevitable mixed emotions, I was struck by the resemblance of the Anzac legend to that of the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War – the same incredible bravery of ordinary men commanded by bungling leaders to undertake a doomed and futile mission.

There’s another, even more tragic, echo here. Both the Crimean War and the Gallipoli campaign arose from the same cause – the decline of the Ottoman Empire, and the struggle over its partition. But in the Crimean War, the British and French were on the side of the Turks against the Russians. In the Great War, the imperial alliances had shifted, and the Russians formed part of the Triple Entente, while the Turks were on the side of the Germans.

Whatever the justice of the Allied cause in the Great War as a whole, the war with Turkey was nothing more than a struggle between rival imperialisms. The British and French governments signed secret treaties with each other, and with the Russian Czar, promising to divide the spoils of victory. At the same time, they made incompatible promises of independence for the Arabs and of a homeland in Palestine for the Jews.

There are no consolations to be had here. The Great War did not protect our freedom, or that of the world. Rather, it gave rise to the horrors of Nazism and Bolshevism, and, within Turkey, to the Armenian genocide. The carve-up of the Ottoman empire created the modern Middle East, haunted even a century later by bloodshed and misery.

As we reflect on the sacrifices made by those who went to war nearly 100 years ago, we should also remember, and condemn, the crimes of those, on all sides, who made and carried on that war.

Lest we forget.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Bolt and Krauthammer Day

April 23rd, 2013 52 comments

At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that it is now exactly a decade (24 times 5 months) since Charles Krauthammer told us that

Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We’ve had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven’t found any, we will have a credibility problem.

Despite being utterly and repeatedly wrong about Iraq, and many other things, Krauthammer is now, as he was then, a prominent columnist at the Washington Post.

What about our own Krauthammers? The leading candidate is surely Andrew Bolt, and a search through the archives[1] finds him denouncing the Left saying, triumphantly “they were wrong”. Those attacked include Carmen Lawrence, Bob Brown, Robert Manne, Andrew Vincent and Paul Dibb. Here’s a typical example of Bolt’s vitriol

NO one tried harder to save Saddam than Greens leader Bob Brown, a notorious scaremonger, who claimed more than 100,000 Iraqi children would die in this war. He also quoted from a leaked UN report which predicted 900,000 refugees. In fact, hardly one Iraqi refugee has fled in four weeks.

Of course, Brown was right[2].

Bolt is pretty big on demands for retractions. So, has he ever apologized for this appalling, and utterly wrong, attack on the reputations of those who correctly predicted the disastrous outcomes of the Iraq war?

fn1. The News archive doesn’t seem to go back 10 years, so I’ve been using the Factiva database. Google found Bolt’s spray reproduced on the Free Republic (I haven’t heard anything of the Freepers for years, but apparently they are still going). I’d welcome any help with data sources, and also any suggestions for more absurd wrongness from 10 years ago. If there are enough good links, I might make this a regular feature

fn2. From the days of the Iraq debate, I can just imagine someone quibbling about Brown’s reference to “children” and demanding a source that specifies the ages of those who died as a result of this tragedy. Such quibbles, and their authors, will be treated with the contempt they deserve.

Categories: #NewsCorpFail, World Events Tags:

1975 as the mirror image of 2013

April 9th, 2013 65 comments

There’s already plenty of commentary, here and elsewhere on Margaret Thatcher. Rather than add to it, I’d like to compare the situation when she assumed the leadership of the Conservative Party with the one we face now. As Corey Robin points out at Crooked Timber

In the early 1970s, Tory MP Edward Heath was facing high unemployment and massive trade union unrest. Despite having come into office on a vague promise to contest some elements of the postwar Keynesian consensus, he was forced to reverse course. Instead of austerity, he pumped money into the economy via increases in pensions and benefits and tax cuts. That shift in policy came to be called the “U-Turn.”

Crucially, Heath was defeated mainly as a result of strikes by the coal miners union.[1]

From the viewpoint of conservatives, the postwar Keynesian/social democratic consensus had failed, producing chronic stagflation, but the system could not be changed because of the entrenched power of the trade unions, and particularly the National Union of Miners. In addition, the established structures of the state such as the civil service and the BBC were saturated with social democratic thinking.[2]

Thatcher reversed all of these conditions, smashing the miners union and greatly weakening the movement in general, and promoting and implementing market liberal ideology as a response to the (actual and perceived) failures of social democracy. Her policies accelerated the decline of the manufacturing sector, and its replacement by an economy reliant mainly on the financial sector, exploiting the international role of the City of London.

Our current situation seems to me to be a mirror image of 1975. Once again the dominant ideology has led to economic crisis (now about 4 years old), but attempts to break away from it (such as the initial swing to Keynesian stimulus) have been rolled back in favour of even more vigorous pursuit of the policies that created the crisis. The financial sector now plays the role of the miners’ union (as seen in Thatcherite mythology) as the unelected and unaccountable power that prevents any positive change.

Is our own version of Thatcher waiting somewhere in the wings to take on the banks and mount an ideological counter-offensive against market liberalism? If so, it’s not obvious to me, but then, there wasn’t much in Thatcher’s pre-1975 career that would have led anyone to predict the character of her Prime Ministership.

fn1. I was too far from the scene to be able to assess the rights and wrongs of these strikes or the failed strike of the early 1980. It’s obvious that the final outcome was disastrous both for coal miners and for British workers in general, but not that there was a better alternative on offer at the time.

fn2. The popular series, Yes Minister, was essentially a full-length elaboration of this belief, informed by public choice theory

Categories: Economic policy, World Events Tags:

Sceptics and suckers: A look back at Iraq

March 21st, 2013 95 comments

Ten years after the invasion of Iraq, the disastrous failure of Bush’s war is evident to just about everyone. Here’s the news from the day before the anniversary.

Debates over the case for war in Iraq coincided with the emergence of the political blogosphere and created divisions that have been pretty much set in stone ever since. Those who, for one reason or another, swallowed and repeated the lies used to push the war dug themselves further and further in over subsequent years. Those of us who were sceptical[1] of the claims made by Bush and Blair, and proven right by events, came to realise that the other side inhabited a parallel universe, in which the possibility that prior beliefs might be changed by factual evidence was largely absent.

I want to restate a point that seems to be forgotten a lot, especially by those who went along with the Bush-Blair claims about WMDs. Until December 2002, there was plenty of behavioral evidence to suggest that Saddam had WMDs, namely the fact that he had expelled (or, more precisely, refused to co-operate with) the UN weapons inspection program. Given the benefits from being declared WMD-free, this made little sense unless he had weapons. Equally, Bush and Blair were making statements that they knew what WMDs Saddam had and fairly accurate knowledge of their location. Again, this seemed (to me, at any rate) to make no sense if they were relying on a bluff that Saddam could easily call.

All of that changed, in December 2002, when Saddam readmitted the inspectors and declared that he had no WMDs. At that point, it suddenly became obvious (again, to me, at any rate) that Bush and Blair had been making it up. I naively supposed that it would be equally obvious to everyone else, and that, as a result it would be impossible to mobilise support for war. That was wrong, of course. I was particularly struck by the unanimity with which the pro-war bloggers reproduced the ever-changing propaganda lines of the Administration. No one would be surprised now, but back then, the assumption was that disputes with rightwingers were a matter of honest disagreement.

fn1. It’s striking, in view of the extreme gullibility shown by such people that the overlap with those who call themselves climate “sceptics” is very high.

Categories: World Events Tags:

Is the tide turning?

February 22nd, 2013 61 comments

It’s easy to overestimate the significance of a single electoral cycle (look at the Repubs after 2010), but there really does seem to have been a big shift in US political debate. Of course, that’s from a position where centrists like (first-term) Obama were occupying the positions held by moderate Republicans 25 years ago. It’s reasonable to feel a bit ambivalent about ‘victories’ like repealing the most regressive bits of the wholly regressive Bush tax cuts. A couple of links of interest (a few weeks old, but I’m running behind on most things)

* The Hoover Institution’s Policy Review is ceasing publication, and its final issue includes a piece by longtime editor Tod Lingren who concedes defeat, at least for the moment, to what he calls Left 3.0. This is his name for the self-described “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” which has, in his view, absorbed and tamed the radical left, defeated the Clintonite New Democrats, and dominated the Republicans. Lingren is surprisingly sympathetic, essentially implying that the only thing wrong with Left 3.0 is that too much egalitarianism is bad for economic growth

* Michael Lind gives chapter and verse supporting a view that I advanced a while ago, that US politics is best understood by treating “Southern White” as an ethnicity. There’s an interesting comparison to the now-disappeared nativist movements among Northeastern Yankees in response to Irish and other European immigrants

If US politics does shift to the left, what effects will that have elsewhere? Even the most liberal Democrats would be centrist at best in most countries, and their most radical goals (single-payer health care, a progressive income tax, parental leave and so on) would be uncontroversial in most places, so there won’t be much direct effect. On the other hand, in Australia and other English speaking countries, a large slab of the right wing gets its talking points from the US Republican bubble, via the Murdoch press, and look to an idealised version of the US as a free-market model. If the Repubs are discredited at home, that will create some problems for their followers abroad.

Categories: World Events Tags:


January 26th, 2013 9 comments

A crosspost from Crooked Timber, speculating (from a non-expert perspective) on the possible consequences of a referendum vote in favor of a British exit (BReakout?) from the EU. I’ll start by thinking about two polar cases.

One is the Norway/Switzerland model. Initially, the only thing that changes is that Britain gives up its political membership of the EU and institutions like the European Parliament, Council and so on. Otherwise things go on as before – Britain pays into the EU Budget, is bound by current EU regulations and subsequent changes, keeps its optouts on things like Schengen, at least initially, and maintains its current access to EU markets, free movement and so on. This seems to work well enough for Norway and Switzerland, but doesn’t seem likely to satisfy UKIP or Tory Eurosceptics. And, of course, it depends heavily on the goodwill of the EU. Britain could seek to negotiate further exemptions from EU rules, but, the EU could scale back the existing British optouts over time.

At the other extreme, Britain could unilaterally abrogate all the existing arrangements and start over from the position of, say, Russia – a major EU trading partner without any special rights or obligations other than those agreed on a case by case basis. Prima facie, that would include applicability of the standard third-country tariffs in each direction, non-tariff restrictions applicable to goods not compliant with EU (or, in the opposite direction, UK) regulations, standard visa requirements for travel, residence and work, controls on capital flows and so on. It seems clear that this would be damaging for the EU, and disastrous for the UK. Still, it also seems clear that this is what the Eurosceptics have in mind, though typically with a liberal dose of wishful thinking about how easy it will be to negotiate FTAs, visa-free travel etc.

Is there an intermediate path? I can’t immediately see one. Presumably, there is a notion that Britain would stay in while the terms of exit were negotiated. But that could last many years, and would effectively amount to the Norway/Switzerland situation in the interim.

Any other thoughts on this?

Categories: World Events Tags:

Swartz and Keen

January 19th, 2013 52 comments

Over at Crooked Timber, I and others have been blogging about the death of the wonderful Aaron Swartz, driven to suicide by abusive prosecutors Carmen M. Ortiz and Stephen Heymann (there are petitions calling for their dismissal, which US readers are encouraged to sign, and another to pardon Swartz. Opinions differ on the last of these, but I think it should be supported).

Now we have a similar, though hopefully less tragic, case of the same mentality being applied in Australia. Last year, the University of Western Sydney tried to shut down its economics program. I was among the many who protested and the university backed down partially, agreeing to retain a major. But lots of people, including well-known macroeconomist Steve Keen decided to take the redundancy package and leave. Keen’s course was to be scrapped, and he commented to students that, in the absence of any way of retaking the course, he wouldn’t be able to fail them. Whether this was a joke, or a serious statement, it certainly pointed out the incompetence with which the shutdown was being managed. The University, possibly still smarting from its defeat, took disciplinary action against Keen and has now taken the extraordinary step of referring him to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I’m sure that ICAC will laugh at this, but it’s the kind of threat that has to be taken seriously. I imagine Keen will face significant legal expenses as a result.

So far, I’ve referred to the University, but obviously these decisions were made by actual people, and those at the centre appear to be:

Kerri-Lee Krause, pro vice-chancellor (education) (quoted in the Oz story)
Clive Smallman, Dean of Business

The vice-chancellor of UWS, Janice Reid hasn’t made any public statement as yet, AFAIK. If she has any care for the reputation of UWS, and her own, she needs to abandon this vindictive attempt at prosecution, and pull these bullying bureaucrats into line.

More at Catallaxy – on this occasion, I agree entirely.

Note - if you follow the Catallaxy link, do yourself a favor and skip the comments thread. Australia’s centre-right intelligentsia living up/down to its usual standard.

Categories: Boneheaded stupidity, World Events Tags:

“Southern White” as an ethnicity (crossposted from Crooked Timber)

November 17th, 2012 64 comments

A while ago, I posted about the supposed capture of the ‘white working class’ by Republicans, pointing out that the term was being used to refer to those with less than college education. On more traditional measures of class, such as income, the Democrats do much better, though still getting only about half the vote.

In response to this post a number of commenters pointed out that the data was not disaggregated by region, and that the South was anomalous. A couple of things I’ve seen recently support this. Here’s Charles Blow, reporting that 90 per cent of white voters in Mississippi supported Romney. Kevin Drum observes that Obama won about 46 percent of the white vote outside the South and 27 percent of the white vote in the South. Here’s a bit more from The Monkey Cage.

It strikes me that the best way to understand the distinctive characteristics of US voting patterns is to to treat “Southern White ” as an ethnicity, like Hispanic. With that classification each of the major parties becomes an coalition between a solid bloc vote from an ethnic minority and around half the votes of the “non-Southern white” ethnic majority, which is more likely to vote on class lines. The question then is which ethnic/class coalition is bigger. As in other countries, voting for the more rightwing party is correlated, though not perfectly with higher incomes and (conditional on income) lower education, and to shift according to broader ideological movements.
Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Armistice Day

November 12th, 2012 130 comments

After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a chance Australia might finally be at peace next Armistice Day. Most combat operations in Afghanistan will cease early next year, and we can hope that the final pullout will take place not too long after that. In my lifetime, Australia has been involved in three long wars, none of which have produced the promised results. In two of them, Iraq and Vietnam, the pretext for war was clearly fraudulent. The overthrow of the Taliban regime, which had sheltered Osama bin Laden, was plausibly justified on grounds of self-defence, but the conduct of the war, and particularly the decision to invade Iraq, ensured that the effort would end in failure, as it has done. The best that can be said about the wars of the last decade is that they have been less costly, at least in Australian lives, than was Vietnam.

What is really striking, looking at the recent past, is how much has been achieved by peaceful means. In our own region, Indonesia has been transformed from a dictatorship (generally seen as representing a long-term military threat) to a stable democracy, which has largely overcome the challenges of terrorism, religious violence, natural disasters, and the attempts of the military to retain its central role in politics and business. With the aid of Australian peacekeepers, East Timor has made a start on a difficult road out of poverty. Elsewhere in the world from Eastern Europe to South America to the Arab world, seemingly durable dictatorships have collapsed or handed over power, mostly without the intervention of foreign governments.

Saying that war should be the last resort sounds like a platitude. But it is among the most important lessons we learn from history. Those who choose war rarely achieve the outcomes they expect and usually bring disaster on themselves as well as others. War in self-defence is sometimes necessary, and there are rare occasions when outside intervention can prevent an immediate human catastrophe. Fighting wars for justice, or democracy, or national honour, or to prevent future wars is a path to ruin.

Categories: World Events Tags:

The culture wars are over. They lost.

November 8th, 2012 195 comments


Categories: Oz Politics, World Events Tags:

Some random thoughts on the US election

November 7th, 2012 81 comments

As regards the outcomes, it’s all positive except for the failure to make significant gains in the House of Reps. Obama wins easily, the Dems gain ground in the Senate despite defending 23 states against the Reps 10, and some big referendum wins on marriage equality and drug law reform. The good thing about the House is that it’s up for re-election in two years time, without the distraction of a Presidential race.

The popular vote is a more complicated story. At this stage it looks as though Obama will win narrowly. But he would win easily among registered voters, more easily among US citizens, more easily again among US adults and overwhelmingly in the world as a whole. The Dems need to make voting rights a core issue from now on.

The Repubs only lost narrowly, but time and demography are against them. Unless they shift ground on some major issues, they look like being a permanent minority. But the attack machine they’ve built up will savage anyone who suggests such changes. Logic says they’ll find a way, but maybe it will take another, bigger, defeat. Let’s hope so.

Particularly in the Senate, the quality of the Democratic caucus is greatly improved – Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and others are gone, while the additions include Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin. A House win in 2014 could see a genuine Democratic majority rather than one relying on Blue Dogs and Dixiecrats as in the past. That would provide a path to passage of genuine reforms.

It would be great if, now that he doesn’t need to go for re-election, Obama returned to the defence of civil liberties he advocated in his 2008 campaign and his inaugural address. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath on this one.

Categories: World Events Tags:

The U.S. Lacks Interests in the Mideast

October 21st, 2012 25 comments

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The National Interest. Opening paras over the fold

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

Republican conspiracy theory update

October 8th, 2012 34 comments

Republicans are now so habituated to conspiracy theories that they have become the default mode of reasoning. Even minor news items, unfavorable to the Repub line of the day, instantly produce conspiracy-theoretic explanations. Moreover, existing, previously non-partisan conspiracy theories are being welcomed in to the Republican coalition. Three examples from the past week , two of them for the same news item

* Unexpectedly good employment figures produced the “jobs truther” conspiracy theory that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had cooked the numbers. This was first advanced by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, taken up enthusiastically by Republican rightists like Laura Ingraham and Allen West, and boosted by Fox News.

* As the difficulties with this theory became apparent, Repubs switched to a non-falsifiable alternative. Unemployed Democrats had conspired to lie to BLS surveyors by claiming they had found jobs, thereby boosting Obama’s re-election numbers.

* The third is a health conspiracy which is based on the idea that the symptoms normally associated with depression or chronic fatigue syndrome are actually a chronic form of Lyme Disease (an infection carried by deer ticks) and that the medical establishment is conspiring to suppress the evidence. Romney and Ryan are pandering to this.

The biggest (non-political) conspiracy theories remaining unclaimed are Ufology and anti-vaxerism. So far, at least these seem to be beyond the pale for the Repubs. Michelle Bachmann got a very negative reaction to her embrace of anti-vaxerism during the primary campaign, even though she was using it to bolster the rightwing case against HPV vaccination for girls. If we ever see a softening on this, we’ll know that the party has finally lost all remaining touch with reality.

Not quite on conspiracy theories, but here’s a Repub member of the House Science committee saying ““All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,”.

How about Australia? So far at least, “cafeteria crazy” seems to be the rule in most places. Full-blown conspiracy theories on climate change coexist with routine political rhetoric on most other issues.

But the local right has long been dependent on talking points imported from the US, and the supply chain is increasingly dominated by conspiracists. Examples of full-blown crazy are the overlapping circles of Catallaxy and Quadrant who recirculate most the US conspiracy theories. Here’s Quadrant denouncing Darwinism. And more here from rightwing eminence grise, Ray Evans, linking evolution and climate science. And here’s Catallaxy pushing poll trutherism

Categories: Oz Politics, World Events Tags:

47 per cent true (crosspost from CT)

September 27th, 2012 10 comments

As Chris Bertram says in comments here, Romney’s main hope of getting away with his claim that 47 per cent of the US population are non-taxpaying moochers is the expectation that very few people will actually regard themselves as part of that 47 per cent. The same calculation is made by those who have pushed this talking point for years such as well-known plagiarist Ben Domenech and general lowlife Erick Erickson. It’s unsurprising that they should think this. After all, they’ve been making this claim, in one form or another for years, going back to the WSJ’s attack on “lucky duckies” in 2002. The claim has been refuted time and again with the points that most of the 47 per cent are workers subject to payroll tax, or retired people, but this refutation hasn’t reached the Fox News audience, many of whom don’t realise they are the moochers being attacked here.

But I don’t think this will help Romney, and the reasons why reflect some important developments in relation to post-truth political discourse in the US.

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

The white working class (crosspost from CT)

September 27th, 2012 2 comments

For quite a while now (pre-dating Obama, but more frequently since he was elected), I’ve been reading about the Democrats’ troubles with “the white working class”. In some ways, this is unsurprising. In every country with which I’m familiar, a substantial proportion of the working class votes for the more conservative/rightwing party. And, even compared to the most wishy-washy of social democratic and labor parties elsewhere, the Dems aren’t exactly fervent champions of the worker. Still, the Repubs are even worse, so it seemed surprising to read that they regard the white working class as their base. Other things I read (sorry can’t find links now) made things even more puzzling. On the one hand, in the US as elsewhere, higher incomes are correlated with voting for the conservative/rightwing party, which seems to cut against the thesis. On the other hand, I’ve read that the average income of the US working class is the same as that of the population as a whole, which goes against the whole idea of “working class” as I understand it.

All became clear(or, at least, clearer) when I discovered that US political discussion uses two very different (though correlated) concepts of “working class”. The first is the more or less standard one – people who depend on wage labor (normally in manual or low-status service occupations) for their income. The second, specific to the US, and standard in most political polling, is “people without a 4-year college degree”, a class which includes such horny-handed sons and daughters of toil as Bill Gates and Paris Hilton. More prosaically, it includes lots of small business owners, and (since college graduation rates were rising until relative recently), over-represents the old.

Data on US voting patterns is surprisingly scarce, but Andrew Gelman has a big data set confirming the point that Republican voting rises with income. Andrew kindly sent me the data, which classifies voters by education (5 levels), income (5 categories) and race/ethnicity(4), for a total of 100 categories, and gives, for each group the proportion voting Republican. I’ve used this to look at an income-based definition of working class, encompassing everyone with an income less than $40 000. I’m not sure of the exact definition of this variable, but it seems pretty clear that people with income at this level are unlikely to be living on income from capital or a high-status job. To focus on the claim about the white working class, I’ve divided the 100 categories into four roughly equal-sized groups: working class whites (income less than 40K), middle/high income whites with and without college degrees, and all non-whites. Then I’ve looked at how many votes the Republicans got from each group in 2008.

As the pie chart below illustrates, the biggest group in the Republican voting base, and the group with which they do best is that of middle/high income whites without college degrees (the percentage after the group name gives the Republican share of the vote for that group). There’s nothing surprising in this, since all three variables are correlated with Republican voting. It’s the practice of calling this group “working class” that causes the confusion.

Disaggregating, the extreme case is that of high-school educated whites with incomes over $150K, 81.7 per cent of whom supported the Republicans in 2008. They’re a small group of course, but not negligible at about 1 per cent of the sample (155 out of 19170).

The two remaining groups of white voters are split pretty evenly between Reps and Dems, while, as is well known, non-white voters strongly favor the Dems.

The Republican voting base
(percentages after each group give proportion of that group voting R).

Read more…

Categories: World Events Tags:

How Europe Saved Obama

September 19th, 2012 18 comments

That’s the title of a piece that I wrote for the National Interest, responding to the ECB decision to undertake unlimited bond purchases. There’s been lots of news since then (on which I’ll write if I get time), but it only confirms the key point – Romney’s dwindling chances relied heavily on a European economic crisis happening before November, and that is now highly unlikely. The key paras

When Barack Obama celebrates his second inauguration next January, the man who did most to ensure his election victory is not likely to be there. But perhaps the president should make a note to reserve a seat for the head of the European Central Bank.

With no convention bounce and little prospect of a convincing win in presidential debates, challenger Mitt Romney’s hopes have been centered on an October surprise. Under the current circumstances, that means an economic shock sufficient to discredit Obama’s promise of a slow but steady recovery from the economic crisis. Until last week, that shock seemed likely to come from Europe. The possibility of a Greek exit from the euro, seemingly off the agenda a few months ago, had reemerged as a major factor in the investment plans of U.S. companies.

Last week, however, new ECB president Mario Draghi finally bit the bullet. Announcing that “the euro is irreversible,” Draghi committed the ECB to unlimited purchases of government bonds. Weidmann, the sole dissenter on the ECB board, has so far not carried out his threat to resign.

The ECB decision marks an effective end to the euro-zone sovereign-debt crisis, though not to the European depression or to the failed policies of austerity. At best, the euro zone is now in the same position as the United States and Britain: there is the prospect of a sluggish recovery but no immediate danger of collapse. A true recovery will require both a shift in central banking policy from targeting inflation to targeting nominal GDP, which looks a bit likelier now, and a shift from austerity to fiscal stimulus, which does not.

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Problems with probabilities

August 28th, 2012 53 comments

Peter Hartcher is an insightful commentator on political issues, but we are all prone to fallacious reasoning about probability, and this article about Australian views of the US election illustrates quite a few of them. I don’t mean to pick on Hartcher, whose errors here are trivial compared to the practice of deriving strong conclusions from trivial fluctuations in poll numbers, but this is, as they say, a learning opportunity. Hartcher notes that most Australians, like most people everywhere outside the US, would prefer Obama and goes on to say

But Australians’ answers to another poll question on the US election were troubling. Asked which candidate they expect to win, 65 per cent name Obama and only 9 per cent Romney in the poll conducted by UMR Research.

This is not a question about preferences but expectations. And it is far removed from the realities in the US. The contest for the presidency is finely balanced.

The average result of eight leading polls of US voting intentions shows 46.9 per cent of Americans support Obama and 45.5 per cent Romney, according to That’s a difference of just 1.4 percentage points, which is within the margin of polling error. For statistical purposes, it’s a dead heat.

”Australians could be in for an unpleasant surprise on November 6,” the UMR Research pollster Stephen Mills observes.

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There are lots of problems here.
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The grandfather clause (repost)

August 12th, 2012 30 comments

With the announcement of the Romney-Ryan ticket, I decided to repost this piece on the most striking (to me) aspect of Ryan’s plans, namely the exemption of those currently over 55 (or maybe those who were over 55 in 2010 or 2011, when the plan was first announced. If everything goes to plan for the Repubs, Ryan would be the presumptive candidate after Romney’s second term in 2020. Coincidentally or not, that’s just about the point when the exemption runs out. People retiring after that will have spent a decade or more paying taxes to support benefits for those grandfathered in, but won’t be eligible themselves.
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Hicks case dropped

July 25th, 2012 108 comments

After nearly 10 years, military trials at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp have produced a total of six convictions. One of those was David Hicks, who agreed to a plea bargain under which he would be sent back to Australia to serve out his sentence. On his release, he wrote a book about his experiences. Under “proceeds of crime” laws, the earnings from books about a criminal career are liable to confiscation, and the Australian government accordingly froze the proceeds and took action to have them forfeited.

The news today is that the Director of Public Prosecutions has abandoned the actions and paid Hicks’ legal costs[1]. Although no rationale was given, the general presumption is that the US conviction would not stand up in an Australian court, either because (as Hicks alleged) Hicks’ guilty plea was extracted by torture, or because the whole system failed to meet basic standards of due process.

Most simple of all is the fact that, unlike the usual case of plea bargaining (which is problematic enough), the options aren’t pleading guilty or going to trial. Rather those who plead guilty get a definite (and usually relatively short) sentence on top of their detention, while those who do not are held indefinitely without trial. All of this is relevant now that the Obama Administration is trying to “normalise” the plea bargaining process, by getting those who have pleaded guilty to testify against others accused of more serious crimes. Evidence extracted under this kind of duress is obviously worthless.

None of this proves that Hicks was innocent, either morally or legally. But that’s an inherent problem in a corrupted legal process. Since the trials are rigged in such a way that they can never produce an acquittal (those who might be acquitted are simply kept in detention without charge), a conviction doesn’t prove anything[2]. Morally, Hicks’ eagerness to go to war in any cause that would take him (he applied to join the Australian Army after returning from Kosovo) is pretty repugnant, but those who gave us Gitmo and the Iraq War are in no position to throw stones.

fn1. The only other Australian detainee, Mamdouh Habib, was threatened with similar action, but this did not proceed. He eventually received a substantial (but secret) settlement in return for dropping claims against the Australian government for its alleged involvement in his torture.

fn2. This is a problem even in the standard plea-bargaining system and has given rise to something called the Alford plea, apparently used by Hicks. The accused pleads guilty for legal purposes, while maintaining their innocence of the alleged crime.

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Washington’s Pattern of Military Overreach

June 23rd, 2012 28 comments

That’s the headline for my latest piece in The National Interest. Opening paras:

On October 1, 1950, the forces of a U.S.-led coalition, acting under the authority of a UN resolution, drove the forces of the Korean People’s Army across the 38th parallel and back into North Korea. It was the culmination of a string of stunning military victories.

From the surprise North Korean invasion in June, U.S.-led forces had taken just four months to mount an amphibious landing at Inchon, break out from defensive lines around Pusan and drive the KPA into headlong retreat.

With the North Korean forces routed, the United States was in a position to dictate the terms of peace. Instead (with Russia absent) the United States secured a UN resolution demanding the reunification of Korea. By October 19, U.S. forces had occupied Pyongyang (the first and almost certainly the only time the United States captured a communist capital). Not satisfied with this, General Douglas Macarthur pushed on rapidly. By the end of October, his forces were close to the Yalu River, marking the border with China.

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European Elections and the Debt Debacle

May 17th, 2012 61 comments

That;s the title of my latest piece in The National Interest. Here’s the three-para teaser

European Elections and the Debt Debacle

The victory of socialist François Hollande in the French presidential election has been interpreted, correctly, as a repudiation of the austerity policies imposed on the euro zone by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, in collaboration with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who endorsed Sarkozy in the election.

Hollande’s win was part of a backlash across Europe, with pro-austerity parties from Britain to Greece taking electoral drubbings. Even in Germany, Merkel’s coalition parties were crushed in a state election in Schleswig-Holstein.

It’s safe to predict that Hollande and Merkel will soon come into conflict over austerity. But Hollande’s real opponents in the struggle over European economic policy are not Merkel and the German government but the European Central Bank and its chairman Mario Draghi.

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We shall remember them ? (repost*)

April 25th, 2012 87 comments

On Anzac Day, there are two important things to remember

* Thousands of brave men died at Gallipoli and in the Great War and we should always honour their memory

* The Gallipoli campaign was a bloody and pointless diversionary attack in a bloody and pointless war. Millions of soldiers were killed, and tens of millions of civilians starved and mistreated in a fight over trivial causes that were utterly irrelevant by the time the war ended. The War that was supposed to “end war” only paved the way for the even greater horrors of Nazism and Stalinism. Nothing good came of it.

From what I’ve seen of the last surviving Diggers they were fully aware of both of these things. At one time, it seemed possible that, as the generation who fought in the war passed on, we would forget the first of them. Now the danger is that we will forget the second. We should judge as harshly as possible the political and religious leaders who drove millions, mostly young men, to their deaths, and honour the handful who stood out against the War, including Bertrand Russell and Pope Benedict XV.

* I’ve posted versions of this on previous Anzac Days. There is really nothing new to say, except to hope that we will soon be able to celebrate an Anzac Day without the thought that Australians are still fighting and dying in pointless wars.

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How (not) to defend entrenched inequality

January 25th, 2012 46 comments

The endless EU vs US debate rolls on, but now with an odd twist. Although the objective facts about economic inequality, immobility and so on are far worse in the US than the EU, the political situation seems more promising. (I’m not talking primarily about electoral politics but about the nature of public debate.)

In the EU, the right has succeeded in taking a crisis caused primarily by banks (including the central bank, and bank regulators) and blaming it on government profligacy, which is then being used to push through yet more of the neoliberal policies that caused the crisis. And, as we’ve just seen, formerly social democratic parties like New Labour in the UK, are pushing the same line.

By contrast the success of Occupy Wall Street have changed the US debate, in ways that I think will be hard to reverse. Once the Overton window shifted enough to allow inequality and social immobility to be mentioned, the weight of evidence has been overwhelming.

This post by Tyler Cowen is an indication of how far things have moved. Cowen feels the need, not merely to dispute some aspects of the data on inequality and social mobility in the US, but to make the case that a unequal society with a static social structure isn’t so bad after all.
Update Cowen offers a non-response response here. Apparently, disliking arguments for inherited inequality, such as his point 3 (because of habit formation, social mobility reduces welfare) is a “Turing test” for reflexive leftism.

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Status quo on way out

January 8th, 2012 57 comments

That’s the headline for my first Fin article for 2102, over the fold

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The show just goes on, and on

December 11th, 2011 36 comments

That’s the headline for my piece in the Fin on Thursday, looking at the clown show that is the Republican primary campaign. It’s amusing in retrospect to look at Alan Moran’s letter (republished at Catallaxy) in response to my last piece on this topic, touting the merits of Herman Cain and Rick Perry

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Wrong turn for the right

October 29th, 2011 13 comments

That’s the title of my column in Thursday’s Fin, over the fold

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Tea Party didn’t mind bailing out Wall Street, only Main Street

October 19th, 2011 21 comments

My Fin column from last week is over the fold. It’s mainly about the Occupy Wall Street protests, but in this post I want to stress a misleading comparison with the Tea Party. It’s often suggested that the Tea Party arose in response to the bailout of Wall Street, and until I checked, I had somewhat accepted this claim, even if it was obvious that the protest served the interest of its supposed targets.
In reality, though, there is no truth at all to this claim. To quote from the article

The first Tea Party protests were held in February 2009, shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, and four months after the Bush Administration bailed out the banks. The event that did most to drive the Tea Party protests was a rant delivered by journalist Rick Santelli from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. To the cheers of traders, Santelli denounced bailouts, but not the bailout of the financial sector. His ire was directed against attempts to help struggling homeowners refinance mortgages taken out during the real estate bubble.

I used to see the Tea Party as having had some genuine elements, but co-opted by Wall Street and the Repubs. Now, it’s clear that Repub activists ran the show from day one. Some individual participants may have been sucked in by anti-bailout rhetoric but the organizers were on the side of the 1 per cent all along.

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