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January 23, 2014

falling in love with america again

So somewhere on my Twitter feed popped up the fact that Jim DeMint, former senator from the state of South Carolina and current president of the Heritage Foundation, has a new book coming out, with him all care-free like it's a cover of a folk album on it.

The title of the book is "Falling In Love With America Again".

There are of course many different ways that you can make fun of that title, and I urge you all to seek and embrace your own personal way to do so.  I however am intrigued at how ably DeMint has stated the pathology of the modern Conservative Republican.

The storyline posited is that at some point DeMint fell out of love with America and now, through the power of grassroots whatever, DeMint has agreed to take America back into his arms.  DeMint and America were separated briefly and both dated around, but now they are reuniting, with a passion that's stronger than ever.  (I know: ew.)

What kills me is the egotism of the thing.  DeMint was a senator and all that, but even considering, the idea of arguing over who's fault is the souring of the relationship is, let's say, intriguing.  DeMint's position, and demonstrably that of the rank and file American Conservative, is that America was the perfect wife some time in the past — the Reagan era, the 50s, Reconstruction, YMMV.  And then FDR came in and stopped mowing the lawn and LBJ started messing with forces he did not understand and now no one's hubcaps are safe.  It's just evil and stupid and lazy thinking.

DeMint thinks he is literally the only person on the planet.  It's as if he lives without a mirror, without ever once having experiencing anything resembling introspection.  And as such, it is impossible for him to have a moral code or an ideology that approximates the Golden Mean because for him there are no other people.

For him, change is not a function of time.  Change is a personal and intentional violation of his right to do whatever he damn well pleases.  Change is violence done to him.  Change is someone's fault.  Change is America's fault, which is why Demint fell out of love with her in the first place, what with all those hippies and ghettos and people who don't speak English.  It's just vicious bullshit.

And in case this is the last time Jim DeMint is worth writing about, let me add that time travel is possible, because his haircut came to us from 1955, with an extra side of Brylcreem.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

January 22, 2014

nocera on the brazil problem

Yesterday's column from Joe Nocera is yet another important thing to read.  He visited Brazil, noted that the middle class is enjoying prosperous times there, and then compared notes with his economist friends back home.  The economists were not impressed:
They pointed, for starters, to that slowdown in G.D.P., which they didn't expect to pick up anytime soon. Despite the country's enormous economic gains since the beginning of this century, there has been very little accompanying productivity gains. Indeed, several economists told me that the main reason unemployment was so low was that the economy was terribly inefficient. Too much of the economy was in the hands of the state, I was told, and, what's more, it was a consumption-based economy that lacked necessary investment. And on and on.

So, hmm, economists have a bunch of metrics they use to judge the health of the "economy," but these metrics don't always match up with general, well-distributed prosperity?

As I listened to the economists, though, I couldn't help thinking about our own economy. Our G.D.P. growth was more than 4 percent in the third quarter of 2013, and, of course, our productivity has risen relentlessly. But, despite the growth, unemployment only recently dropped below 7 percent. And the middle class is slowly but surely being eviscerated -- thanks, at least in part, to those productivity gains. Income inequality has become a fact of life in the United States, and while politicians decry that fact, they seem incapable of doing anything about it. Which made me wonder: Whose economy runs better, really?

I guess it's impossible for us all to agree what the "economy" is, as it's such a sizable mess of statistics and components, it could really be everything and nothing at all at the same time.

But it is useful to ask: do the economists, and by that I mean the consensus economists, the kinds of economists that have their hands on the steering wheel, have a blind spot when it comes to income/wealth inequality?  Do the standards they use to measure economic health ignore basic, granular things like living standards?

And finally, is the sort of inequality we have in the United States actually the (un)intended outcome all along?  Is the logical outcome of simultaneously booming GDP and productivity an entire class of the dispossessed?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:31 AM

January 20, 2014

the perfect subtweet

At the risk of endlessly noting Paul Krugman, this morning's column concerns the conservative response to income inequality.  We, the choir, know the drill:
I've noted before that conservatives seem fixated on the notion that poverty is basically the result of character problems among the poor. This may once have had a grain of truth to it, but for the past three decades and more the main obstacle facing the poor has been the lack of jobs paying decent wages. But the myth of the undeserving poor persists, and so does a counterpart myth, that of the deserving rich.

But the really fantastic thing about this column is that it's a direct slap in the face to last Friday's David Brooks.  No, it doesn't mention David Brooks by name (in fact Krugman even sites a WSJ column as an example) but it is aimed directly at His Beige Eminence.

It's eight hundred words of subtweet.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:24 AM