The Closet Moderate: January 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Bernanke

The CM roundtable on reconfirming Bennie B., executive summary:

Silent Cal:

I think he's well-qualified, but more important is that re-confirming him strengthens the Fed's independence. If Obama were to bow to extremists' demands in Congress, it would result in a Fed that was less bank and more an arm of the government. Take a look at Venezuala if you want to know what that would be like.


Its hard to evaluate Bernanke. We didn't go into the Great Depression, thanks at least in part to his various good and unorthodox moves, but we are in a pretty serious recession, which he might in theory be able to alleviate with further (purportedly) good and unorthodox moves. So hating on him is kind of like Will Smith being prejudiced against robots because, when he was drowning, a robot chose to save him instead of the girl who was also drowning.

Harold Lasswell:

I was just going to say that he deserves the job simply by virtue of his nickname, Banke...

Fake Steve Hawking:

I'm generally in favor. My impression is the man is smart, and generally agenda-free. I'm a sucker for a good technocrat.


As much as I love deflation on a personal selfish level, I am a fan of [Milton] Friedman. And since Ben is too, I'll give him a thumbs up.


I'm broadly in agreement with Waldorf, but I'll also cop to having most of my ideas on this issue defined by Matt Yglesias.

Stealth Democracy is a great book about how we all want a government that governs in our best interests, not its own. That's why Obama's "the best people from whichever party" rhetoric and transition were widely admired. But the fact that government looks out for its own interests, and underneath that umbrella, the interests of various factions within it is also the root of a lot of the frustration with government that defines conservative values. As the past administration admirably demonstrated, government is government is government. You should appoint qualified people, but you should really try to appoint qualified people who share your goals.


Kneel before Szod!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Condition Our Condition Is In

In tonight's State of the Union address, Barack Obama will:
  • Admit that Evan Bayh is his least favorite Senator, with a saucy wink at Joe Lieberman.

  • Admonish the GOP for their unfair besmirching of America's oldest sport: the pie-eating contest.

  • Announce a three year brain freeze, and then demonstrate his ability to lead the country by eating an entire crate of Flavor Ice.

  • Stand around awkwardly waiting for people to stop applauding.

  • Revive his flagging agenda by announcing plans to revive human-animal hybrids, pack the Senate with them.*
Be here for every exciting moment!

*Line borrowed w/o permission from Chris Lehmann.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Human Capital Is Made of People!

I wanted to talk a little bit about Maxine Udall's post on the financial meltdown. I'm not an economist, so I can't speak to the post itself, but I wanted to highlight a dimension that I think hasn't been discussed, in part because it's a matter of intuition rather than data: the political consequences.



We can discern three trends about employment/education over the last 50 years:
  • Opportunities, potential for advancement and job quality for people without a college education have decreased.
  • The % of people w/a college degree has increased.
  • The cost of a college degree has increased dramatically.
In other words, "having an undergraduate education" and "having a (decent) job" became tightly linked, and in response the cost of that education rose.

If you're on board with that assertion, it seems like we're in for a bumpy ride, politically. As this WaPo article outlines, there are two processes taking place. First, older college graduates are being laid off at an unusually high rate. Second, those that are finding work are finding it in less-skilled roles. The article devotes one paragraph to what is, to me, the most important part of the picture: those jobs are coming at the expense of opportunities for recent college graduates.

In other words, there's a group of people out there who have paid a lot of money for a piece of paper that says "you're employable" who are unemployed. In addition to the financial burden of college loans, recent graduates lack the skills to compete with the folks who are trading down, and it's hard to acquire skills when you don't have an income or a job. When the status quo ante was "you can have X" and then the forces unleashed in a cataclysm you had no role in creating and no ability to prevent say "you can't have X" there's going to be a certain amount of bitterness. Amplified, of course, by the fact that you're still going to be hurt by it a decade and a half later.

The lasting political legacy of the recession years may be a great many people who are conscious of the ways in which their prospects and opportunities have been curtailed or destroyed, and feel unable to do anything about it. That cocktail of awareness, bitterness and disenfranchisement is going to take our country to an ugly place if it isn't addressed.