The crisis of 2011 – in 2010? — Crooked Timber

Back in July, no one seemed to be talking about a shutdown of the US government following the Dems loss of control of the House. Now the only question is – when?

David Dayen at FDL says it could be as soon as December (I don’t understand the mechanics well enough to confirm or reject this claim). Among those looking forward to the shutdown, the most notable, for a variety of reasons is Alan Simpson. Obama must really be feeling the gratitude there.

There’s still a chance that the Dems can manage a pre-emptive capitulation/collaboration so massive that some on the other side will be willing to cash in their gains without taking the risk of a shutdown. I imagine that would entail, at a minimum, full extension of the Bush tax cuts, effective repeal of the health care bill, no more money for the unemployed, Social Security ‘reform’ and a bunch of spending cuts directed at the tribal demons of the Tea Party. Of those, health care is the only one where I can see the White House taking a stand. I’m less clear about the priorities of the Congressional Dems.

Smoke and mirrors yet again (corrected)

The QR float came in at the bottom of the indicated price range ($2.55 a share for institutions, $2.45 for individuals) and the government sold only 66 per cent of the shares, implying a return of $4.1 billion. However, the government announced a return of $4.6 billion. Unsurprisingly, these figures are bogus. To get there the government included some extras, picked up in later reports:

Dividends due to the government from the company and cash proceeds from a debt facility make up the difference between the $4.1bn worth of shares issued and the total revenue figure of $4.6bn.

It’s pretty rich, but par for the course for this government, to treat the dividends from an asset you are selling as part of the sales proceeds.

A couple of points

* The sale just scraped in at the government’s minimum. What are the odds that some favours were called in, and future favours promised, the get the float over the line?

* As I mentioned last time , the government took on $4.3 billion of extra debt when it restructured QR for sale. So, in cash terms, this sale actually leaves the government marginally behind.

Update In the original version I used reports that said the government had retained a 40 per cent holding, which created some additional puzzles. I’ve now fixed this.

Euroconfusion — Crooked Timber

Most of the discussion I’ve seen of the financial crisis as it affects the eurozone seems to me both confused and confusing. A country outside the eurozone and without the “exorbitant privilege” of being able to sell lots of debt denominated in home currency has three options when it runs into debt trouble: default, depreciation and dependency.

Default is the straightforward solution, but it involves a big loss of face, and unpredictable long-term costs. Depreciation doesn’t directly improve the debt position, since debts are in foreign currency, but by making exports cheaper and imports dearer it helps a country to trade its way out of difficulty, without the need for a reduction in domestic prices and wages. Finally, there’s the option of dependency on an outside rescuer, normally the IMF. This has been the most common solution, but the IMF always demands a price (in terms of policy “reforms”) that makes a rescue only marginally more attractive than default.

A eurozone country doesn’t have the option of depreciation. In return, however, it has two dependency options, calling on either the IMF, or the European Financial Stability Fund. Since the EU would like to keep the IMF out, a distressed debtor can expect slightly better terms from the EFSF.

The default option isn’t affected, except in the same way as any kind of behavior viewed as discreditable affects membership of any club. A government that defaults on its debts might be thrown out of the eurozone, but then again it might be thrown out of the OECD, and the eurozone might expel a member that facilitated tax evasion.

The big question is whether the EFSF will work. That’s certainly challenging, but it still seems like a better bet for debtor countries than going it alone. And of course, there’s more commonality of interest than is often supposed because any bailout benefits the creditors, usually French and German banks

Another Paul Howes post

My last post responding to Paul Howes led me to this piece by him in the Daily Telegraph, denouncing anonymous Internet commenters for their unfair attacks on politicians, with specific reference to Joe Tripodi. I don’t want to spend too much time on Tripodi, but my non-anonymous view is that he is a prime representative of the type of cronyism that has ruined the NSW government, and also of the culture of impunity which has led so many members of that government to sail close to (or over) the edge on matters of personal and financial propriety. Moreover, his political views aren’t noticeably different from those of, say, Peter Costello. Howes’ observation that

Tripodi is a nice and fiercely intelligent man, in real life. He loves his family and he loves public policy. He’s been described by another paper as ‘the smartest man’ in NSW politics

doesn’t (for the relevant values of “nice”) contradict this assessment in any way. Tripodi’s resignation is welcome and would have been more so a year ago, when it might at least have saved Labor from a landslide.

Coming to the notion that anonymous comments on blogs and Twitter are making life impossible for politicians, I have a couple of thoughts

First, what’s mostly happening is that things that would have once been said at the pub, and heard only by those present are now out in cyberspace, easily detectable by Google. Some of that stuff is nastier than most people are used to hearing, or seeing in print, about themselves. That’s part of life for bloggers as well as politicians. On the other hand, politicians have long used, and on occasion abused, the privilege of saying what they like about anyone in Parliament.

Second, as regards anonymity, I’d be more impressed by these complaints if journalists and politicians hadn’t long since developed their own self-serving culture of anonymity. I don’t know anything specific about Joe Tripodi’s media contacts, but he’d be an unusual politician if he’d never gone on background to bag out his political opponents or (very likely) his Labor colleagues. This kind of cowardly dirt-dishing, which forms the basis of much political journalism is the opposite of the principled, and personally risky, whistleblowing that journalists like to invoke when they defend their own use of anonymous sources.

See also: Andrew Elder on Howes and a similar whine from Leigh Sales.

Living in the 80s

If you want to see why the Labor party is in so much trouble, it’s useful to read this piece in the Oz by Paul Howes, one of the brighter lights on the right of the party. Howes says

For a generation or more we have witnessed a flowering of tory political culture. We have watched ideas flowing out of places such as the Sydney Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne. The IPA, the HR Nicholls Society and the Sydney Institute may propose policies that are abhorrent to me, but they’ve created a culture of ideas to nourish conservative politics.

This would have been an unremarkable claim to make in the 1980s (a generation ago). But today ?? The Sydney Institute is Gerard Henderson, who hasn’t had a new idea since the “Federation Trifecta” in 1990. Around the same time, the IPA with John Hyde rose briefly above its history as a conduit for business donations to the Liberal Party and its present role as an advocate of anti-science delusionism on issues ranging from tobacco to global warming to the Murray-Darling Basin (the latter not quite so much since the departure of Jennifer Marohasy). The HR Nicholls society has been moribund for years – its last notable contribution was as the 2006 venue for Nick Minchin’s disastrously leaked suggestion that WorkChoices had not gone far enough (he was bagged for this by John Howard in his autobio)

Howes goes on to mention, and dismiss, a plethora of leftish thinktanks (Per Capita, the Centre for Policy Development, Catalyst, the Australia Institute, the Evatt Foundation, the Fabians (Disclosure: in one way or another, I’m associated with most of them)) any one of which has had more new ideas in the last few years than the moribund shells he describes have had in decades.

Howes’ assessment reveals that, like most Australian politicians and commentators he is still in thrall to the 1980s agenda. The fact that, far from coming up with “brilliant new ideas”, Howes is sticking with an orthodoxy that was already solidifying when he was born in 1981 wouldn’t matter if these old ideas had proved their worth. But they have comprehensively failed, most notably in the current global crisis.

Howes is no fool and has at least made explicit what is merely implicit in the thinking of the average Labor politician (Bligh, Fraser, Keneally, Gillard and Brumby being obvious examples). But it is little wonder that the Greens are making such headway when the major parties offer a bipartisan consensus on such tired and failed ideas.

Radioactive sandpit

Since I’ve been incautious enough to mention the N-word in the previous post, I’ll open another sandpit specifically devoted to discussions of the merits, and otherwise, of nuclear power. Any mention of this topic on other threads will be deleted and will risk bans or restrictions on the offender

Update Since it’s still going, I’ve moved it up, which should reopen comments

One-dimensional chess — Crooked Timber

The big issue to be decided by the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend Bush’s tax cuts for the very rich[1]. This is a one-dimensional chess game, with the obvious zero-sum property that if the tax go through, the Republicans win and (at least in standard political terms) the Democrats lose by an equal amount.

There seems to be a near-universal consensus that
(i) The game is a forced win for the Dems (pass a bill extending the cuts for everyone but the rich and dare the Repugs to oppose it)
(ii) The Dems opening move will be to resign

This analysis certainly gives support to the idea of unobserved dimensions, presumably monetary

fn1. The option of not extending them for the well-off, and doing something serious about the deficit without too much impact on demand is way outside the Overton window.