Archive

  • LIKE RATS FROM...

    LIKE RATS FROM A SINKING SHIP. Michael Gerson , the exceptionally skilled speechwriter who put all them purdy werds in the President's mouth, is retiring . "It seemed like a good time." Gerson said. "Things are back on track a little. Some of the things I care about are on a good trajectory." Apparently, one of the things he cared about was not the Bush presidency, now languishing in the mid-30's . --Ezra Klein
  • PLEASE, NO MORE...

    PLEASE, NO MORE JACKBOOTS STOMPING ON HUMAN FACES! To add a slightly more frivolous point to Matt 's post below about Jonah Goldberg , isn't it high time to retire the "jackboots-stomping-on-a-human-face" clich� that Goldberg quotes " Derb " as using? I mean, does any military outfit itself with jackboots anymore? That's a real question. Anybody know? My inclination is to think that the only people who wear jackboots and might want to stomp on human faces these days are off begging on St. Mark's Place in New York's East Village. Such people stopped seriously stomping on human faces in the early 1980s, if they ever really did it at all. Even if there are jackboots in military use today, it's still a very bad idea to use the phrase. It unwittingly reveals a writer's sneaking belief that he or she is the modern-day re-incarnation of George Orwell , who famously wielded the image to great effect. Sure, many people who do this for a living have a germ of a desire somewhere to be a modern-...
  • BASEBALL IS ONE...

    BASEBALL IS ONE THING, BUT PLEASE, NOT BASKETBALL. I sincerely hope that Matt is wrong about the imminent takeover of basketball by the saberrnetric kudzu that's come to spread itself over baseball. I have no problem with it there. After all, the difference between the essential thrill of watching the average major-league baseball game and the essential thrill of adding up long columns of numbers is not vast. But more than any other sport, basketball relies on its performance esthetic for its essential appeal. This began with James Naismith 's eureka moment when he decided to put the goals of his new sport off the ground, thereby guaranteeing that, sooner or later, people would leave the ground to get to them. The fact that gravity always has been incidental to the sport is one of the reasons why basketball's fundamentals change as quickly as they do, why basketball took less than four decades to go from the standing guard to Michael Jordan , whereas it took baseball nearly 100 years...
  • ECONOMICS 101. In...

    ECONOMICS 101. In regard to the minimum wage debate, I'm getting a little tired of appeals to "Economics 101" (or Social Analysis 10 , as the case may be) as a conversation-stopper in political debate. After all, there's a reason they offer more economics classes and you don't get your degree after taking just one. A lot of introductory physics classes don't deal with relativity or quantum mechanics, which doesn't make quantum mechanics wrong; it makes introductory physics an oversimplification of complicated reality designed to provide a foundation for further learning. Advocates of minimum wage increases aren't fools who don't understand a stripped-down supply and demand model (okay, to be fair, there are lots of fools in the world and presumably some are on our side), which is exactly why you don't find people arguing for a $100/hour minimum wage. I promise you that all these dudes (PDF) took introductory economics (I took the Advance Placement test), and it's perfectly possible to...
  • SINCE WHEN HAS...

    SINCE WHEN HAS SHAME STOPPED THEM? I'm going to disagree with Matt 's hypothesis that intellectual writers are focusing of football because all the other sports have become too math-heavy for them. First, like my friend Brian Beutler , I think the upsurge in football commentary is a function of the quadrennial World Cup, rather than some sort of soccer fetish. Where was all this commentary, as Brian wonders , in the halcyon days of three weeks ago? Add in that blogs and websites have given writers a virtually unlimited amount of space on which to opine, and so their quirky soccer obsession doesn't have to compete with Haditha, and I think you've got your answer. The second reason the math hypothesis doesn't hold up is that the punditocracy has never shown any reluctance to approach data-heavy subjects with nothing more than a sack of adjectives and a dream. As much as baseball can be statistics-heavy, economics and policy are really far more empirically grounded, and yet the nation's...
  • DEFENDING BUSH FROM...

    DEFENDING BUSH FROM JONAH'S SMEARS. I think Jonah Goldberg 's notion that the Bush administration has erred by emphasizing democracy over other liberal values -- the rule of law, pluralism, etc. -- is appealing, but basically mistaken. I also thing he's missing the point that this has actually become a fairly standard attack on Bush from important left-of-center circles. My argument on this score, which I've made before, is basically stolen from Thomas Carothers , the Carnegie Endowment's rule-of-law guy, who's neither a Bush fan nor (as you can tell from his job description) one inclined to overlook the importance of the rule of law. The basic problem here is that contrary to the impression one gets from, say, Fareed Zakaria 's book, liberal autocracy, while certainly a conceptual possibility, doesn't seem to be much of an empirical possibility. If you're compiling a list of modern liberal autocracies, you're going to start with Singapore and you're going to end with . . . Singapore...
  • MORE ON THE...

    MORE ON THE MINIMUM. Will Wilkinson is a bit exercised because my argument against the minimum wage wasn't a bulletproof econometric conclusion to the minimum wage debate -- also, because he appears to not understand that an argument against obvious correlation isn't an argument for positive correlation. Sigh. This isn't an endable debate. But Will's argument against me is one of the more frustrating turns in it, an oversimplified appeal to "economics 101." So let's have a lesson... First, there is no hard and fast law that "as the price of something goes up, consumers will tend to buy less of it." It's a good guideline, but it's got no end of exceptions. It's well understood, for instance, that many companies overprice luxury goods because consumers use cost as a heuristic for quality, and often purchase greater quantities of products priced expensively to signal their worth. Cost and demand exhibit no clean inverse relationship, and consumers and producers react neither rationally...
  • BUSH AND HISTORY....

    BUSH AND HISTORY. Ever since Bush turned unpopular and conservatives conveniently decided that Bush wasn't a conservative after all, a lot of liberals have been trying to nail down the argument that, no, the failures of today's GOP just are the failures of conservatism. I think Alan Wolfe writing in the new Washington Monthly does the best job I've seen yet. Among other things, the article just includes a lot of great quips. The lead quip, though, is actually something I have complicated views about: "Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes what George W. Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his administration." I just may be that pundit. My view, unpopular though it is, is that the historical trajectory of Bush's reputation is going to roughly resemble what's happened with Woodrow Wilson , a pretty awful President who seems to be well-regarded because he basically put a lot of appealing-sounding ideas in play that later politicians turned into...
  • BEST. TERRORIST. EVER....

    BEST. TERRORIST. EVER. That's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi , according to George Will . Or at least he's "the most effective terrorist in history." That seems misguided. Zarqawi's dead. What's more, I'm quite certain that his long-term goal of constructing a pan-Islamic neo-Caliphate or whatever isn't actually going to be achieved. Where's the love for Michael Collins or Haganah -era David Ben-Gurion ? They both managed to more-or-less get what they wanted by recognizing that maximum violence and maximum unwillingness to compromise aren't actually the best approach to these questions? Or were they so successful that none dare call it terrorism? --Matthew Yglesias
  • Is Bernanke Promoting Inflation?

    There is an interesting aspect to the recent rise in the inflation rate that the media have not really explored. The biggest factor in the higher than expected May measure was a jump in rent. (The two rental indices, owners' equivalent rent and rent proper, account for nearly 40 percent of the core consumer price index [CPI].) One explanation for more rapid increases in rents is that people who cannot afford to buy houses, due to higher mortgage rates, are now looking to rent. The Census Bureau's data on vacancy rates gives us evidence to support this position. Rental vacancy rates have fallen by almost a full percentage point from their record high 10.4 percent in the first quarter of 2004. At the same time, the vacancy rate in ownership units has increased from 1.7 percent to 2.1 percent over this period. (There are twice as many ownership units as rental units, so the overall vacancy rate is basically the same over this period.) Insofar as this story is true, it implies a very...

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