Kids Prefer Cheese
Credibly promising to be irresponsible...since 2004!
Friday, December 10, 2004
Thursday, December 09, 2004
"They Wreck Their Ship in Harbour..."
There is a tendency for citizens of each age to think their problems are unique, and more difficult than in times past. Still, future generations may well look back at fin de millennium America, and be glad they were born later.
There is a parallel tendency for people to think their problems are not of their own making. This blaming others, or fate, or greed, is entirely misplaced. Other people are always unpredictable, fate is inscrutably unbiased, and greed is human nature. But most problems are caused by problem-plagued people themselves. If things are going pretty well, people will find a way to complain. The problem is the idea of "democracy."
Consider this snippet, from Polybius:
The Athenian [democracy] is always in the position of a ship without a commander. In such a ship, if fear of the enemy, or the occurence of a storm induce the crew to be of one mind and to obey the helmsman, everything goes well; but if they recover from this fear, and begin to treat their officers with contempt, and to quarrel with each other because they are no longer all of one mind,--one party wishing to continue the voyage, and the other urging the steersman to bring the ship to anchor; some letting out the sheets, and others hauling them in, and ordering the sails to be furled,--their discord and quarrels make a sorry show to lookers on; and the position of affairs is full of risk to those on board engaged on the same voyage; and the result has often been that, after escaping the dangers of the widest seas, and the most violent storms, they wreck their ship in harbour and close to shore.
Polybius, HISTORIES, Book VI, Chapter 44, ca. 130 B.C.
(Translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh, 1889)
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Pangloss was Right: Reform is Always Bad
Remember Dr. Pangloss? “‘Tis demonstrated that things cannot be otherwise; for, since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end…. Those who have asserted that all is well talk nonsense; they ought to have said that all is for the best.” (Candide, p. 4).
Many economists have argued persuasively that the tax system that imposes the least deadweight loss is…whatever tax system we happen to have! The reason is that economic agents adjust their activities, and rewrite contracts, to optimize given the tax system that is currently in place. Changing the tax system, in any way, imposes large costs, costs that will almost certainly swamp the positive long term effects of “reform,” no matter how well intentioned.
This argument is equally persuasive for the reform of congressional institutions, only more so. The potential costs of reform are so large that they may not be measurable.
Consider three specific instances:
Principle 1: “An old tax is a good tax.” Old policies are understood, their deadweight losses capitalized. Sure, these are losses, but they don’t matter at the margin once contracts account for them. Interest groups, citizens, and consumers develop expectations about the way that the policy process works, and gauge tax rates and regulatory costs in making investment decisions. Even if reforms “improve” welfare, in a static sense of approaching optimality, constant fiddling makes expectations diffuse. In short, predictable nonoptimality can easily be better for a society than widely varying, unpredictable reform efforts chasing optimal institutional arrangements.
Regarding the “good tax is an old tax” phenomenon, Buchanan points out:
In the most general terms, the appropriate analogue is the physical law of inertia. It is easier to continue a flow once started than it is to start it in the first place. All that is necessary for this point to be accepted as relevant for an individual decision calculus is some acknowledgement of a temporal sequence of choices.
So the burden of the reformer has to be more than just static improvement. Reform has to be a permanent improvement, with no further action required. Otherwise, it is far better to maintain the current policies. Since reformers rarely have this kind of foresight, and think only of short term improvements, most reforms end up being fantastically expensive.
Principle 2: The “transitional gains trap.” The government can’t even give anything away. Subsidies for an asset result in that asset being overvalued, compared to its market price. Costs are bid up, and owners end up making a normal return, just as they did before the “reform.” Only owners at the time of the policy change get any benefits, and even that gain is realized only if the policy is unexpected. All future owners get nothing.
But if the policy is ever changed back, all owners (those who gained, and those who didn’t) lose large amounts of wealth. Consequently, reforms designed to help a few people rarely accomplish that goal, and end up costing everyone. Ultimately, the costs last forever, because (by principle 1, above), it is cheaper to continue the bad policy than switch to the good one. It would be better still never to implement the reform in the first place, of course, but tell that to earnest young Candide!
Principle 3: “Cost illusion.” Costs of reform are analogous to “renters’ illusion,” the situation where renters underestimate the effect of real estate taxes because renters (unlike homeowners) don’t pay taxes directly. There is some debate about whether renters’ illusion is real, but “cost illusion” is rampant among the reformist followers of Candide. The costs of reform are generally imposed on specific sectors; since the reformers don’t have to pay anything, the reform is “free.”
For example, we are told that campaign finance reform requires that television stations give political candidates “free” air time. Well, it really is free to the reformers, but air time is expensive. Prohibiting stations from charges hardly makes it free; reform would simply shift the cost of campaign finance reform onto the stockholders of communication companies. Once thought of that way, the “reform” makes no sense. Why should the stockholders of the media corporations bear all the costs of political reform? What of the alternative, using public funds to pay for the “free” air time? That would be too expensive!
The flaw in this reasoning is obvious. If free air time is too expensive for everyone to pay for, it is certainly too expensive to extort from television stations as a condition of their license. The costs are the same either way.
And that is the rub: reforms are generally too expensive to pay for directly, so we disguise the costs of reform by focusing the expense on a small group, or by pretending the costs don’t exist. Reform, shmeform: Pangloss was right. In equilibrium, things are already for the best.
 James Buchanan, Public Finance in Democratic Process: Fiscal Institutions and Individual Choice, Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1967, p. 58.
 Buchanan, ibid., p. 60.
 Gordon Tullock, “The Transitional Gains Trap,” Bell Journal of Economics, (1975): 671-678.
 For a review, see Wallace Oates, “On the Nature and Measurement of Fiscal Illusion: A Survey.” In Geoffrey Brennan (ed.), Taxation and Fiscal Federalism: Essays in Honor of Russell Matthews. Sydney: Australian National University Press.
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Jerry Lewis is a Comic Genius
Well, in France.
And now I see why: Inspector Clouseau actually runs their security system.
(Nod to Cap'n Ed)
Democracy is Overrated, IV
It [is impossible] to separate the democratic idea from the theory that there is a mystical merit, an esoteric and ineradicable rectitude, in the man at the bottom of the scale—that inferiority, by some strange magic, becomes superiority—nay, the superiority of superiorities. What baffles statesmen is to be solved by the people, instantly and by a sort of seraphic intuition. This notion . . . originated in the poetic fancy of gentlemen on the upper levels—sentimentalists who, observing to their distress that the ass was overladen, proposed to reform transportation by putting him in the cart. (H.L. Mencken, from Notes on Democracy, 1926)
What people mean by “democracy” is some combination of good government, protection of individual rights, extremely broad political participation, and widely shared economic prosperity. One might as well throw in an ideal body mass index and a cure for influenza. It’s all good, but meaningless. Democracy has no useful definition. The reason we say we like it is that we refuse to think about what it means.
There is a definition many people pretend to believe, unless they are pressed. It is much narrower, and goes like this: If a group is constituted to decide as one, then any numerical majority of that group can make decisions. These decisions can be binding on all (majority rules the totality), or binding just on some class or group specified in decision itself (majority rules the minority). While I have already said that all definitions are not really useful, this version seems to be the one that many people hold.
The problem with the narrower definition I stated is that no one could really believe it, at least not in isolation from lots of other assumptions. One is left to wonder whether democracy, in the sense of rule by the people, is a conceit or a fraud. As a conceit, it may be harmless enough. It may even be useful, because it celebrates the wisdom and good will of the common person. This sort of mythology has a calming, leveling effect on public discourse.
If a fraud, however, then we are in darker and more forbidding terrain. The pretense that we found rectitude in the multitude is dangerous. The public invocation of the public wisdom simply holds citizens down whilst we steal their purses, or send their children off to war.
There are two linked ideas about democracy, and it is important to keep them separate. The first is the existence of a good, of a right (best) thing for the society to do. This is a question that has both normative and positive elements. It may seem strange to question the existence of “the good” in politics, but in fact it is simply not obvious that a society can discover transcendent principles of the good through voting.
The second aspect of the democratic idea is the problem of choosing rules or institutions most likely to lead to the discovery of the good (assuming it exists). There are two very different approaches to the problem. The positive, ends-based approach emphasizes the properties of the voting or preference revelation techniques as if they were estimators. One can then apply quasi-statistical techniques, much as if an estimator were being subjected to Monte Carlo testing. That is, given a configuration of preferences in which some “good” alternative is embedded by construction, what are the relative frequencies with which different techniques discover it?
The other approach, normative and process-based, focuses on the fairness or legitimacy of rules themselves, as means. There is an obvious assumption in this approach, one that has led two generations of public choice scholars (see, for example, Riker, 1982, Liberalism Against Populism) to question it, but it persists nonetheless. That assumption is that “fair” processes necessarily lead to “good” outcomes.
Republican elections in the nineteenth century were seen as a means of exerting control over elected officials, and little more. We have to balance this against the expansive modern faith in, and practice of, democratic governance. The rules, procedures, and the basic “machinery” of democratic choice have not kept up with the faith people seem to have in the wisdom of the majority. To some extent, this is the fault of officials in the states, who have failed to give enough thought to problems involved in implementing new paperless voting technologies. (Sure, some of these folks are crackpots, and Keith Olbermann is a nutjob, but Caesar's wife has to be above reproach) (More accurately, Plutarch has Caesar say, "I wished my wife to be not so much as suspected.")
But the other problem, at least as important, is that the academic establishment in the U.S. has done a poor job making students understand the limitations and dangers of unlimited democratic choice. For both reasons, the mismatch between what we demand of democratic institutions and what they can reasonably deliver endangers the stability of our system of government.
While this danger may be most significant in the U.S., there are also dangers when we foster the secular trend toward reliance on “democracy” as a means of reconciling disagreement in other nations. What social choice theory teaches us is that we cannot expect institutions to produce consensus in the face of disagreement, unless (a) certain arguments or positions are outlawed, or (b) choice is left up to a single individual, or dictator.
People seem to believe in the value of consensus, but they do not appear believe in either domain restrictions or dictatorship. Policy makers must face the fact that the failure of voting institutions to produce consensus is really two separate problems:
- Our technology of democracy is too old, and prone to abuse or at least distrust. We must bring voting technology into the 21st century, because we accept much less than is possible.
- Our ideology is utopian science fiction. So, we must also take voting ideology back to the 19th century, because we have come to expect much more than is possible.
Saturday, December 04, 2004
I get emails asking why I am so inconsistent in my political views.
Well...at the risk of sounding like John Kerry, I haven't been inconsistent. It is just that I don't agree much with anybody. (Okay, John Kerry was different. He was trying to AGREE with anyone. Any idiot can do that, and most do).
Here is the problem, as I see it, boiled down to two propositions:
1. There are no self-evident truths.
2. Even #1 is not self-evident. You don't understand it until you think about it a long time.
Since people in politics all seem to deny #1 constantly, I try to critique all of them.
...Or, you could say it like Treebeard did: "I am on nobody's side for nobody is on my side."
Budget Deficits II: You Can't Blame Dogs for Eating Out of the Garbage
"Why does Camelot lie in ruins? Intellectual error of monumental proportion has been made, and not exclusively by the politicians. Error also lies squarely with the economists. The ‘academic scribbler’ who must bear substantial responsibility is Lord Keynes ...” Buchanan, Wagner, and Burton, 1978.
(Continuing yesterday's rant on deficits...)
Government deficits are not (usually) earthquakes or floods, the natural consequence of random or deterministic process. Instead, deficits are the aggregate consequence of the self-interested individual actions of hundreds of elected and appointed officials, the sine qua non of the public choice approach. A more traditional view of the “public interest” in political science, of course, imagines that government officials work to advance the public good, or at a minimum their own vision of that good. Keech (1995) describes the “public choice” alternative:
… [The] democratic process is not so benign. In that view, politicians are opportunistic, and voters are naïve. Incumbents manipulate their performance to appear misleadingly good at election time, and both challengers and incumbents make unrealistic and insincere promises. Voters are myopically oriented to the present, which makes them unprepared to hold incumbents accountable for their performance over entire electoral periods, or to relate electoral choices to future well-being in a meaningful way. Economic performance deteriorates. Politicians exploiting popular discontent propose superficial reforms that fail to solve the problems, such as the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction acts of 1985 and 1987. (p. 3).
The public choice model of government decision-making predicts that government surpluses have the life expectancy of an adult mayfly. There have been several published collections that have made this point clearly, including Buchanan and Wagner (1977), Buchanan, Rowley, and Tollison (1987), and Rowley, Shughart, and Tollison (2002). Of course, Keynes himself accepted, and in fact was one of the foremost advocates of, the idea that ideas matter, in his over-quoted passage on how “the world is ruled by little else.” But it is worth quoting the entire passage, to show what argument (interest groups and self-interest) Keynes thought he was refuting.
But apart from this contemporary mood, the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas. (Keynes, General Theory)
One key to understanding the public choice approach, particularly in its application to the study of debt and deficits, is this: Keynes is posing an absurdly false dichotomy. Ideas are not opposed to “the interests,” but are more often tools, even rhetorical weapons, used in service of those interests. That is not to say that ideas don’t matter, but rather to insist (contra Keynes) that interests do.
Let me link this back to deficits and the debt, and the contribution of the public choice school of political economy. It is easy to think that debt is not really a problem. For “functional finance” scholars (see, e.g., Lerner, 1943), deficits are simply the harmless means of accomplishing good ends. After all, we owe the debt to ourselves, and rational income earners will always save now to meet future tax obligations. As Abba Lerner famously put it, "national debt is not a burden on posterity because if posterity pays the debt it will be paying it to the same posterity that will be alive at the time when the payment is made." (Lerner, 1944: p.303).
What this idea implies, as Buchanan (1976) pointed out in response to Barro (1974), is the strong claim that the issue of new public debt is simply a form of new taxation. Barro had argued that the society could spend out of tax revenue now, or spend out of future tax revenues by borrowing. Buchanan notes that this is precisely the issue raised by “Ricardian Equivalence,” if taxpayers perceive future taxes as claims on the next generation, with the added understanding that the next generation is made up of our children. If we look “forward” in this way, it can be argued that debt will have no impact on total spending, because the spenders in a democracy recognize that they are also the payers, and are no more likely to authorize increased spending out of debt “revenue” than they are out of tax revenue.
The point is that the extreme form of Ricardian Equivalence, combined with the Keynesian policy prescription for deficit spending as a positive good, constitute an important “idea.” What this idea has enabled, however, is the empowerment of a set of interests whose political goals have little to do with the abstract utopian economysticism of the Keynesian macro-control scholars. In an important series of papers (Buchanan, 1958; Buchanan, 1976, and Brennan and Buchanan, 1980) James Buchanan took on the problem of “future generations,” and at a minimum showed that facile “equivalence” claims simply do not follow from the arguments given for them. In fact, he is able to show that some of the claims Barro made for equivalence imply absurd predictions about the world. On the other hand, the absurdities Buchanan points out highlight the debt and deficit experience of the last 30 years.
One implication of his analysis would be that the social security system as it has operated should not have modified the rate of private saving in the economy…If politicians are ultimately responsive to the desires of their constituents, we may infer something about constituents’ evaluations by observing the behavior of politicians. The 40-year history of social security financing yields ample evidence that politicians are extremely reluctant to adopt anything which smacks of full funding for the system. Under the Barro hypothesis, there should be roughly indifferent public reaction to a fully funded and to an unfunded pension system.
If we shift to the more general model, governments should be roughly indifferent as between financing current outlays from taxation and from genuine debt issue. There should be no effect of debt-financed deficits on aggregate spending... [The] behavior of legislators seems to offer indirect evidence against the capitalization hypothesis. Can anyone in the post-Keynesian world of 1975 seriously question the proclivity of politicians to expand the public debt in preference to tax increases? (Buchanan, 1976, p. 341).
From the vantage point of 2004, rather than 1975, it is easy to understand Buchanan’s skepticism. The level of under-funding of Social Security obligations has now reached the point where the discussion no longer centers on whether the system will default. What analysts wonder is when, and by how much, benefits will have to be slashed, or perhaps even eliminated. In this context, it is difficult indeed to sustain the claim that the constraint imposed by Ricardian equivalence describes political choices of either citizens or elected officials.
An interesting perspective, which connects the “public interest” and “public choice” view of budgeteering, is that of Higgs (1987), which argues that decision-making is motivated (or supported) by an ideology we might call “Keynesianism” or fiscal activism. Higgs describes “ideology” this way:
By ideology I shall mean a somewhat coherent, rather comprehensive belief system about social relations.... Ideology has four distinct aspects: cognitive, affective, programmatic, and solidary. It structures a person's perceptions and predetermines his understandings of the social world, expressing these cognitions in characteristic symbols; it tells him whether what he "sees" is good or bad or morally neutral; and it propels him to act in accordance with his cognitions and evaluations as a committed member of a political group in pursuit of definite social objectives. (Higgs 1987, 37)
Higgs incorporates Keynes’ claim that ideas matter, but there is a twist. The growth of government and the increase in the acceptable size of deficits, accumulated in the debt, are linked to a fundamental change in the conception of government. People changed their view of the obligations of citizens, and of the role of government in their lives. So, part of the reason that the size and scope of government has increased is simple interest group politics: every program creates an interest that depends on the program for its survival. But programs are also protected by the idea, now widely held among citizens, that it is right and proper for government to regulate and subsidize the everyday activities of citizens.
Charles Rowley (Rowley, 1987a; 1987b) independently develops a more specific, but related, set of analytic themes about the macroeconomy. He approaches Keynes and Keynesianism in a way that should receive more attention from macroeconomic scholars, because he links the ideas of what we now think of as Keynesianism to the “public choice” arguments that require attention to interest and political consequence. And there we have the reason that debt and taxes are quite radically different: even if one concedes the Barrovian logic of economic equivalence, the process is driven by political interest, in which debt is nearly always preferable to but they emphasize the political sense in which debt and taxes are radically different.
When one tries to draw together the independent strands of thought of Buchanan, Higgs, and Rowley on deficits, it is hard not to be reminded of von Mises’ famous observation about economic theory and its use in making policy prescriptions.
Scarcely anyone interests himself in social problems without being led to do so by the desire to see reforms enacted. In almost all cases, before anyone begins to study the science, he has already decided on definite reforms that he wants to put through. Only a few have the strength to accept the knowledge that these reforms are impracticable and to draw all the inferences from it. Most men endure the sacrifice of the intellect more easily than the sacrifice of their daydreams. They cannot bear that their utopias should run aground on the unalterable necessities of human existence. What they yearn for is another reality different from the one given in this world...They wish to be free of a universe of whose order they do not approve. (Mises, Chapter 4, Section 6, Epistemological Problems of Economics).
To most politicians, of any of the main partisan affiliations, it now seems established that deficits and large accumulations of debt are benign, or at worst only pose a danger far off in a distant future. The problem is that these political “leaders” may be sending a message that the electorate would take issue with, if it were presented as a package rather than piecemeal. The problem is not just that voters are too passive and disorganized to respond. The real problem is that voters want is perfectly sensible, but impossible to deliver because it is not feasible. Voters want three things: (a) lower taxes, (b) increased spending on “needed” programs, and (c) lower deficits.
Of course, I want these things, too. We just can’t have them, at least not all the time. And it now seems clear that the salience, or marginal utility (depending on whether you are a political scientist or an economist) of these three is not equal. Every time a politician offers lower taxes and increased spending, voters act they just got a prom date with the prettiest cheerleader, or that handsome striker, or maybe both. Voters actually want lower deficits, but only at the cost of raising someone else’s taxes, or cutting someone else’s needed programs.
Given what we now know, or think we know, about the problem of fragility and contagion in the remarkably interconnected and interdependent financial systems of the world, it is clear that voters are making a mistake, putting deficits last, or allowing political leaders to do so. Putting aside the (quite real) ethical problems of financing current consumption on the pocketbooks of future generations of taxpayers, one can make a strong argument that voters are being misled, or at least badly led. One cannot blame our political leaders for cravenly exploiting the political advantages of deficits, any more than one can blame dogs for eating out of uncovered garbage cans. It's what they do.
Here's the thing: my liberal friends often make two complaints....(1) We should use government to do pretty much everything, because it is better, more rational, and more responsive to the needs of the people. (2) We hate George Bush, because he pursues political advantage ruthlessly. Why don't liberals see that investing huge powers in government and trusting government to do the right thing is EXACTLY what causes George and his policies to be such a dangerous force in our lives.
"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.". ~ Hosea 8:7
Social scientists must do a better job of explaining the trade-offs that an economy, and a political society, make when considering the shadow their choices cast into the future.
Barro, Robert. 1972. “Are Government Bonds Net Wealth?” Journal of Political Economy. 82: 1095-1117.
Brennan, H.G. and Buchanan, J.M. (1980). “The logic of the Ricardian equivalence theorem.” Finanzarchiv 38 (1): 4–16.
Buchanan, J.M. ( 1999). Concerning future generations. In Public principles of public debt: A defense and restatement, 27–37. The collected works of James M. Buchanan, vol. 2, ed. by H.G. Brennan, H. Kleimt and R.D. Tollison. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.
Buchanan, J.M. (1976). “Barro on the Ricardian Equivalence Theorem.” Journal of Political Economy. 84: 337-342.
Buchanan, James M., Charles K. Rowley, and Robert D. Tollison. Deficits. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987, pp. x, 417
Buchanan, James M. and Richard E. Wagner, Democracy in Deficit: The Political Legacy of Lord Keynes. New York: Academic Press, 1977.
Buchanan, James M., Richard Wagner, and John Burton. (1978). “The Consequences of Mr. Keynes” Hobart Paper 78 (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1978).
Buchanan, Neil. (1996). “Which Deficit? Comparing Thirteen Measures of the U.S. Fiscal Deficit on Theoretical and Empirical Grounds,” Working Paper No. 170, Levy Institute, Bard College Department of Economics, http://www.levy.org/docs/wrkpap/pdf/170.pdf
Federal Reserve Board, 2003, Household Debt Service and Financial Obligations Ratios, http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/housedebt/default.htm
Higgs, R. (1987). Crisis and Leviathan: Critical episodes in the growth of American government. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hinich, Melvin, and Michael Munger. (1994). Ideology and the Theory of Political Choice. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Ippolito, Dennis. 2003. Why Budgets Matter: Budget Policy and American Politics. Pennsylvania State University Press.
Keech, William. (1995). Economic Politics: The Costs of Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Keynes, John Maynard. (1936 / 1997). General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. New York: Routledge.
Lerner, A.P. (1943). Functional finance and the federal debt. Social Research 10 (February): 38–51.
Lerner, A.P. (1944). The Economics of Control: Principles of welfare economics. New York: MacMillan.
Mises, Ludwig von. (Buchanan, Rowley, and Tollison), pp. 114-142.
Rowley, C. K. (1987b). “The Legacy of Keynes: From the General Theory to Generalized Budget Deficits,” in Deficits (ed by Buchanan, Rowley, and Tollison), pp. 143-172.
Rowley, C. K., William Shughart, and Robert Tollison. (1987). “Interest Groups and Deficits,” Deficits (ed by Buchanan, Rowley, and Tollison), pp. 263-280.
US Office of Management and Budget (2003). Budget of the United States, fiscal year 2004: Historical tables. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2004/pdf/hist.pdfU.S. Treasury Department. 2003. “REVISED SERIES: MAJOR FOREIGN HOLDERS OF TREASURY SECURITIES.” http://www.treas.gov/tic/mfh.txt1933 / 1976). Epistemological Problems of Economics. 1976 edition, New York: New York University Press.
Muris, Timothy, (1999) “Ronald Reagan and the Rise of Large Deficits: What Really Happened in 1981.” Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Law School Working Paper, http://www.gmu.edu/departments/law/faculty/papers/docs/00-05.pdf
North, Douglass. (1990). Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rowley, C.K., Shughart, W.F. II and Tollison, R.D. (Eds.) (2002). The economics of budget deficits, 2 vols. International library of critical writings in economics 153, ed. by M. Blaug. Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.
Rowley, C. K. (1987a). “John Maynard Keynes and the Attack on Classical Political Economy’ in Deficits (ed by
Friday, December 03, 2004
Budget Deficits: K. Grease Plays Chicken Little
(NOTE: IF THERE IS ANY COHERENCE IN THIS ESSAY, IT COMES FROM TALKING TO KEVIN GRIER. BUT DON'T BLAME HIM...)
The old post-Keynesians, such as Hyman Minsky, made much of the increased financial interdependence, and consequent fragility, of our banking and credit system (see, for details, Minsky, 1971, 1982, 1995. For more than anyone could want to know, see Bellofiore and Ferri, 2001). Here was how Minsky put the problem, which he called “the economics of euphoria,” and which sounds familiar to anyone who lived through the 1990s:
The confident expectation of a steady stream of prosperity [creates a] …willingness...to take what would have been considered in earlier times undesirable chances in order to finance the acquisition of additional capital goods...Those that supply financial resources live in the same expectational climate as those that demand them...An essential aspect of a euphoric economy is the construction of liability structures which imply payments that are closely articulated...to cash flows due to income production...Withdrawals on the supply side of financial markets may force demanding units that were under no special strain and were not directly affected by financial stringencies to look for new financing connections. An initial disturbance can cumulate through such third- party or innocent-party bystanders...Financial instability occurs whenever a large number of units resort to extraordinary sources for cash [at the same time]. (Minsky, 1971; cited in Mayer, 1998).
I was lucky enough to take classes from Hy Minsky in the early 1980s, and I have to admit that at the time I thought he was paranoid. But looking at the quote above (and remember, this was from the early 1970s!), I am much more persuaded that the idea of fragility, and increased speed and power of transmission of economic crises, is plausible, though it may be hard to express rigorously.
Nonetheless, several scholars have recently taken the idea of financial fragility, or the increased susceptibility of an economic system to shocks, very seriously. One mechanism through which contagion can spread is the cross-market “rebalancing" of portfolios, much as Minsky was describing in the long quotation above. The key insight is that investors transmit idiosyncratic shocks from one market to others (either sectoral markets, within a nation, or in financial markets, across nations) by adjusting their exposures to macroeconomic risks.
But the attempted portfolio adjustments are by no means independent; again, as Minsky pointed out, “Those that supply financial resources live in the same expectational climate as those that demand them.” For present purposes, one of the most interesting contributions is the paper by Leung (2003). Leung claims that the external debt owed by less developed nations has increased the amplitude, as well as the duration, of cyclic fluctuations in aggregate economic activity. Using simulations, Leung shows how increased external debt may directly increase risk of ruinous and unpredictable business cycles.
But is “external” debt really a problem for the U.S.? Certainly the amount of debt (in the U.S. case, Treasury securities) in foreign hands has been increasing, but is it a problem? The answer is “probably not,” or “at least not yet.” The value of Treasury securities in foreign hands recently exceeded $1.3 trillion, with the plurality of that amount ($450 billion) held by the Japanese. While some of the foreign holdings can be explained by attempts to prevent other currencies (particularly, in this case, the yen) from appreciating too much against the dollar, there is the dangerous possibility that some tipping point can be reached.
The more general problem is that a financial crisis, even if it were to start with, or simply involve, the U.S., might propagate in ways that international monetary and financial institutions could not control. As two recent papers, by Lagunoff and Schreft (2001) and Kodres and Pritsker (2002) point out, the very fact that rational agents hold diversified portfolios means that financial positions are linked. If a shock, in financial, energy, or some other key global markets, causes some losses, there will be consequent separate-but-not-independent attempts at portfolio rebalancing. But the aggregate consequence of individual attempts to realize small changes in financial position, if the information that caused the readjustment is common knowledge, could well be a disastrous decline in entire sectors and their asset values. These cascades in values can cause other losses which cause additional reallocations by other investors, so that even isolated shocks might quickly metastasize throughout the financial system.
There is an element of Chicken Little here, I should admit. There is no specific prediction that U.S. deficits, at some particular point or for any particular reason, will cause disaster. Still, the increase in deficits “as far as the eye can see,” combined with the unrelated but potentially menacing private debt in the U.S., leads to an important question: Why is it that we have deficits? Why did the surplus disappear so quickly, and sink so rapidly?
Bellofiore, Riccardo, and Piero Ferri (eds). 2001. Financial Keynesianism and Market Instability: The Economic Legacy of Hyman Minsky (two volumes). Cheltenham, UK: Northampton, MA : Edward Elgar
Kodres, Laura and Matthew Pritsker. 2002. "A rational expectations model of financial contagion." Journal of Finance 57: 769-99.
Lagunoff, Roger, and S. Schreft. 2001. "A Model of Financial Fragility." Journal of Economic Theory, 99: 220-224.
Leung, Hing-man. 2003. “External Debt and Worsening Business Cycles in Less Developed Countries.” Journal of Economic Studies 30: 155-68
Mayer, Martin. 1998. “The Asian Disease: Plausible Diagnoses, Possible Remedies.” Economics Working Paper Archive—WUSTL (http://econwpa.wustl.edu), Macroeconomics Series, # 9805015.
Minsky, Hyman P. (1971), “Financial Instability Revisited,” in Reappraisal of the Federal Reserve Discount Mechanism. Washington, DC: Federal Reserve System, pp. 100-105.
Minsky, Hyman P. (1982). Can "It" Happen Again? Essays on instability and finance. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Minsky, Hyman P. (1995), Longer Waves in Financial Relations: Financial Factors in the More Severe Depressions II, in Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 29, no. 1, March, pp. 83-96.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
The Thing Itself III
Can government do anything to better people's lives? Should government do anything? These questions don’t get asked very much. We all just assume that government should do SOMETHING, and then argue about what that is….
Still…Let me ask. Actually, let me answer.
1. Can government do anything to make things better? Let’s suppose that government is neutral instrument, with a real power for accomplishing good in people's lives. The provision of public goods, particularly local public goods, is a "government" function.
(One might quarrel with this claim, as Burke did when he said, “The thing! The thing itself is the abuse!” But let’s not go there)
EVEN THEN, there are limits to what government can do. One of the first people to recognize this was the man who put the dismal in the dismal science, Parson Thomas Malthus. (Yeah, I know, it was Thomas Carlyle). Malthus discovered a general principle that will sound familiar to everyone: the more you have of something, the more you need!
In third world countries, we have found that if all you do is give people enough resources to make them a little bit healthier, you increase births. Births continue until the society comes up against the new resource constraint. People are still starving, but now there are lots more of them.
In cities and counties, the same logic applies to roads: if you make commuting cheaper by building or widening roads, it isn't long before people are once again, stopped and staring at the stationary taillights ahead of them. There are six lanes of gridlock now, instead of two, but people respond to the costs of the activity until the cost rises.
Sometimes we try to get around this problem by subsidizing an activity we think we value. Suppose, for example, we all think family farms are good. But we look around, and see that family farmers are all poor or going out of business. So, Congress or the state legislature passes a law that subsidizes farm crops. Everyone who owns farmland gets a one time wealth transfer from consumers and taxpayers. So far, so good: farmers (briefly) are wealthier.
Over time, though, people sell the land, or deed it to their children. But these people now implicitly pay a higher price for the land, a price that capitalizes the subsidy on the crop. If you ever cut the subsidy, the farmers will go bankrupt. But if you leave the subsidy, the farmer (at best) only breaks even, barely scraping by. We all still hear stories about the poor farmers, and wonder how this can be, when we are spending all this money on farm support.
This is how it can be: after the one time wealth increase for people who own land, new people enter (or farmers or their children stay on their farms). Profits fall back to subsistence levels, and farmers are once again poor, just indifferent between staying and leaving. Only now, we are all paying high prices for crop support programs, and taxes for subsidies! Lots of pain for us, no gain for the poor farmers!
In short, much of the time, government CANNOT do anything to help. Rent-seeking dissipates give-aways, and in equilibrium people crowd up to the same point whether there is a two lane road or a six lane road, as long as you charge a zero price.
2. The second question I raised above was: Should government try to help people? Appallingly fallacious analogy to "customers." Taxpayers aren't our customers; they are our bosses. May be that the use of "customers" is a way getting employees to accept a role, a style of treatment, in dealing with the public. Easier to train employees this way, better results.
But consider the implications of the "customer" metaphor run amok. I have participated in "studies" (and you can hear the quote marks drip down the side of that word as I use it) where we were paid money by the state, by a county, or a city to do "market research." What we did was ask poor people if they would like a better house, assuming somebody else would pay for it.
Mirabile dictu, they said "Yes!" We then wrote a study saying that there was, indeed, a "need" for this program. To put it another way (and this is how we put it): There was customer interest in this new program. But remember what that program was: we were taking money from taxpayers, without their consent and under threat of arrest or seizure of property, and giving it to people who didn't have decent housing. Then, to check to see if the program should be expanded, we asked the "customers" (the people whose housing would be improved) if they liked it. When they said yes (actually, they said the amount of the rental subsidy should be doubled), we concluded in our scientific way that this was something government should do.
Now, I participated for two reasons: First, I needed the grant money. Second, I believed (and still believe) in the goals of the program, which were to give poor people a life of dignity and a chance to achieve self sufficiency.
But the "customers" metaphor was a lie! Liberals pretend not to understand why taxpayers are so angry, but I understand it, and you should, too. Here is the reason.
The liberal philosophy, based on this conception of customers, has become a pathetic self parody: "Look, there's one! If we just had some funding, we could help him! Her, too! Her life would be better if we improved government services to her." Again, this is just rent seeking, and it is a nonproductive activity that is absorbing a high proportion of our best minds and resources.
When you apply for a grant, or money from a government program, you are doing it so your constituents (maybe taxpayers in your county, or clients in your social service delivery program) can be better off. But that money doesn't come from creating a new product or service, it comes from taxpayers. Instead of devoting creativity and talent to new ways to make things people need, or make those things more cheaply, we are overseeing an enormous bureaucratic paper shuffle: you spend months writing a grant proposal, a team of people read it, and send a few applicants some money. Everyone is paid for their role in this exercise, and all pay taxes on their income to help subsidize the next go round.
The worst part is, it can only get harder and more time consuming as the years go by. Have you noticed that the applications for grants are getting longer? That the competition for this free money is getting tougher? Ultimately, rent seeking forces agencies and non profits to spend a substantial part of the value of the grant up front, just so they can win the competition to get the grant. The only time you can really do much good is if there is a new grant program (just like a new farm subsidy). After a few years, many more agencies are applying for the same fixed (or shrinking) grant pool. You spend so much time pursuing this "free money" that you wonder if it is worth it.
What the left has forgotten, or actually never wanted to believe, is that you have to persuade taxpayers that this is a good thing to do. Discovering heretofore unknown "rights," which are really privileges involuntarily extracted from taxpayers, is the stock in trade of the political liberal.
The failure of liberalism in the United States is to articulate a compelling set of reasons why. The great expansions in the social "safety net" occurred under a clear (debatable, but clear) set of arguments. FDR, JFK, and LBJ all seemed to believe that you had to get the people's consent, or at least their understanding, before you started taking their money. The argument that we can do good has become the only argument that we should.
So now we are at an impasse, a Gordian knot with nothing but fingers sticking out, all pointed in different directions. Liberals pretend not to understand that you have to persuade people that tax money should be used to "help customers." The fact that you can "help" people if you give them other peoples' money is not enough of an argument, not today.
What is a munger?
For example, a munger might turn this: *bold* into this: bold.
For example (again), see this....
The verb is actually "mung" (pronounced munj), and if you need some munging you need a munger.
From the book on data munging with PERL:
the point of data munging is to take data in one format, carry out various transformations on it, and write it out in another format. Let's take a closer look at where the data might come from and where it might go.
First a bit of terminology. The place that you receive data from is known as your data source. The place where you send data to is known as your data sink.
Now you know....though you may have known, and not cared.
Ink by the barrel
WTF? K. Grease is Called Chopped Liver!
Okay, NOW I'm pissed.
Excerpt-- Hmmm.... "I’ve noticed this lack of blogging from big names in my own field of political science." Indeed, perusing Crooked Timber's list of poli sci bloggers, I certainly do not see anyone approaching the stature that Becker or Posner have in their fields. To go further, there is no tenured political scientist at a top twenty institution who also blogs.
[Insert sound of lonely wind blowing here--ed.] (this was in the original)
To which I say.... shame on my tenured brethren!! To be sure, a lot of blogging (and some of my blogging) is entirely unrelated to matters of scholarship -- but that doesn't mean it has to be this way. Tyler Cowen has an excellent post in response to Eszter Hargittai on how blogging and scholarship are complements rather than substitutes. Surely these reason must be persuasive to some of my letter-writers for tenured senior people in political science!
[Oh, yeah? Insert sound of lonely Dan Drezner blowing ME!--KGrease]
I'm tenured, Duke is ranked in the top ten, fercrissakes, and now all of a sudden K. Grease is chopped liver?
"...stature of Posner and Becker..." Yes, they are impressive. But I am a chair of a major department, and a past President of the Public Choice Society. Sometimes REAL scholars even let me hold their laptops. It makes me feel like a REAL boy.
I'm going up to fucking UChicago with a bat. Meet me at the Midway, Danny D, cause you are goin' DOWN.
(Nod to a gleeful grad student, who after pointing out the public dissing of KGM had to go off and touch himself)
(UPDATE: The Young Drezner is quite unrepentant. We need more untenured people like that. Dead ones, I mean)
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
"The Long-Awaited Second Issue is Still Available"
The Ukelele Occasional, on news stands sometimes.
It actually says, "The long-awaited second issue is still available." I guess it was more fun to wait for than to read.
Then, it has "frequently asked questions." Shouldn't that be "occasionally asked questions"?
Carolyn Parrish sighting
Apparently, Carolyn Parrish still lives, and sometimes speaks. During the visit of George Bush to serene and pleasant Canada, I mean.
I like the part where one of the guys says, "It's not the numbers, its the message." Um...when it comes to "mass protests", I'm pretty sure it IS the numbers, dude. The numbers ARE the message. They had 5,000 people, in Toronto, a city of nearly 4 million very polite souls. And two-thirds of the 5,000 were bussed in from Dildo, Newfoundland (yes, it's a real city).
Look, they always say that size doesn't matter. But it does. And it does.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Auguring the Eschaton III
Oh, gosh. Look at this.
It is coming.
(Nod to MWT and JB. But you need to WRITE, not CLICK)
Monday, November 29, 2004
It IS about heroes....
Playmakers Rep in Chapel Hill is doing "Not About Heroes."
As reviewer for tSoT at WUNC, I did the following review. Terrific play, and this production is well done.
REVIEW OF NOT ABOUT HEROES (seen November 27)
The Playmakers Repertory Company is messing with us. Both plays so far this season, Richard II and now “Not About Heroes”, which opened last week, seem topical and political. A vain king and a play about a pointless war. Easy.
But it’s not so easy. Richard II wasn’t about George Bush; it was about the farce of any man thinking himself king. Now, the new production, “Not About Heroes” disquiets our settled views of war.
It asks questions most of us are not prepared to ask, much less answer. This is a play with only two characters, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, both British soldiers and poets. The play covers the period of their meeting, in 1915, through the death of Owen in 1918. The simplicity of the set, and the Joseph Haj’s straightforward direction, are remarkably effective.
We are made to see the profound evolution of a relationship between two men over a period of three years, with no set or costume changes, and only minimal effects of sound and lighting. Yet McKay Coble’s scene design manages, with light and depth, to depict three different spaces. A large scrim takes us inside the creative process itself, showing handwritten drafts of poems, with cross-throughs and rewordings, as the characters on the stage struggle with those some passages, with the words that create the pictures poets paint in our minds.
And along with Ray Dooley’s Sassoon and Greg Feldon’s Owen, we confront the enigma: What is the place of the poet in war? Is the pen mightier than the sword? Both men knew the sword’s awful might, first hand. And Owen knew how weak poets are in their own day. As he says in the foreward to his first book of verse:
Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory.
They may be to the next.
All a poet can do today is warn.
That is why the true Poets must be truthful.
Surprisingly, the message here is not pacifist, at least not in the traditional way. Neither does Stephen MacDonald’s script celebrate war, though ultimately it honors soldiers at war.
Make no mistake: both Sassoon and Owen detested the officers who maimed men by marking maps. And both poets reserved their highest loathing for the glorifiers of war, those who used poesy to tell with such high zest the old lie, “Dulce et decorum est….”
And yet….these men were heroes. Sasson passed off his bravery as lunacy, but Owen rightly called him out, saying that Sasson could call others wrong because, lunatic or not, he had stared into the abyss without blinking. Willfred Owen “recovered” from his nervous disorder, went back to front, and earned a medal, a Military Cross. Still he might have left the front, with honor, as England’s foremost poet. Yet he stayed, and died a meaningless death.
But I have to ask if any death is meaningless.
Better, is any death in war really more meaningful than another? The heroism of men at war is not their devotion to the homeland, but their devotion to each other, and to their own sense of duty.
Sassoon’s dreams were peopled by his comrades dead and living, each asking in his own way: Why are you not with me? He had lived where chance had killed all around him. And he lived still, in a hospital in England playing golf while dear comrades he had never met died around Passchendaele. He forced himself to return to the front, and was critically wounded, though he survived.
That small heroism, that simultaneous belief in the futility of war and the need to feed oneself into war’s insatiable maw is the play’s central paradox, its tragedy and its redemption. My own father, first a lieutenant and then a captain leading an armored unit in France, in the Second World War, would have understood. He, too, was decorated for bravery.
Let me read from the citation:
“On 22 November, 1945, while riding in an armored vehicle at the head of his platoon, a road block supported by hostile mortar and small arms fire was encountered. With singular bravery and leadership, Lieutenant Munger remained exposed to the intense fire and successfully directed the removal of all the armored cars and his men without a casualty.”
So, they got the hell out of there, and nobody died. Is that a hero? My father went to a reunion of his armored unit each year, more than 50 years later. He didn’t always feel well, and there were other things to do, but he went. He had to go. He had to be with them. They didn’t sing patriotic songs, or share stories of daring. They didn’t want anyone’s pity. But they had all seen it, seen war, the pity of war, when they were boys of 19 or 20.
Again, from Owen’s FOREWARD TO HIS BOOK:
"This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity."
I would answer that the pity is in this: the sword is more powerful than the pen. The place of the poet in War is to be silenced, not just to be killed but to feel alive after feelings have died.
Dalton Trumbo’s tragic, unforgettable figure, Joe Bonham, had his face blown away, was left with no arms or legs. He could not see, hear, or make himself heard. The poetic sensibility is powerless in the face of such destruction.
Yet this show at Playmakers is strangely uplifting, triumphant, even. It come full circle, past the false heroism of shallow patriotism. Even in war, we can still be heroes. Our sacrifice means more precisely because we know it to be meaningless. Johnny got his pen.
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Auguring the Eschaton II
Friday, November 26, 2004
Rather be in Philadelphia
Or in New York. Or retired. The question is, after Rather, who be the CBS anchortroll?
Some suggestions from the New York Post--ATSRTWT:
...perhaps CBS would like to silence its critics once and for all about the news division's perceived liberal biases by luring John Stossel from ABC. He's a rather dashing fellow, and a libertarian too.
A more trendy selection would be Jon Stewart, since he frequently emphasizes that his "Daily Show" newscasts are not "real news" — just like CBS!
No Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Took my sons over to the house of fellow prof.
Drove the coche de Grease. A 2001 Lincoln town car, black as sin and shiny as expensive sin. About 24 feet long. This is not a car that liberals would drive. They would feel bad just riding in it. (Before you say anything, it gets 22-23 mpg, highway).
Pulled up to a sandwich shop in Chapel Hill. Walked past some nut-hugger, who muttered something about gasoline.
Inside the shop, we ordered lots of sandwiches, enough to feed the party we were going to. All with lots of meat. (There is a Chapel Hill ordinance that says "Meat is murder", by the way. And fish have feelings, in spite of what Nirvana said.)
Nut-hugger comes inside, orders a veggie sandwich. Glares at us. She is wearing a black felt hat, black jeans, black Birkenstocks, and a sort of black sweatshirt. Pretty clearly not one of my people. But she sneezes, loudly, and without thinking I said, "Bless you!"
Might as well have smacked her. Driving a Lincoln, eating meat....she already knew I was a bad guy. But language that could be interpreted as religious? That's where she drew the line. She shouts, "I guess I am just allergic to SOME people!"
After that, I had to kill myself. The approval of that sort of person....K. Grease can't live without it. So this is posted from Hell, my new home. And you will all live there, too unless the Democrats stop choosing candidates who win Chapel Hill by a lot, and lose North Carolina by more.
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Shujaat: So Wrong That He's Right
How embarrassing. Shujaat is just making a mistake here, equating Jenin and Falujah.
Or, maybe he isn't. The actual parallels (grounds troops used to avoid civilian casualties, attacking huge nest of virulent, fanatical killers so cowardly they hide in schools and mosques) between the fake massacre in Jenin and the U.S. attack on Falujah would make an interesting news story. Check this. Or this actual documentary.
So, Shujaat, I'll assume that was irony. You had me going for a minute, tho, pal.
Human Rights Watch's assessment, adapted from the BBC:
Human Rights Watch says at least 52 Palestinians died of whom 22 were civilians. Many of the civilians were killed wilfully and unlawfully the report says.
On the other hand, Israel opted to use infantry rather than aerial bombs...[thereby saving the lives of thousands of civilians.] Palestinian civilians were used as human shields and the Israeli army employed indiscriminate and excessive force, the report says.
The report gives examples - it says that a 57-year-old Palestinian man Kamil Sagir was shot and then run over by Israeli tanks even though his wheelchair was flying a white flag.
Yes, the troops panicked several times, and also exacted revenge on innocent civilians. The problem is that the "fighters" are dressed like civilians. Israel had to decide if it was going to defend itself. It did. Civilians died, "unlawfully," because it is a war fought by cowards on the Palestinian side. Civilian casualties help that cause; why should they care?
And was Falujah any different? Probably not. Same cowardly fighters, same scared angry troops, same kinds of completely innocent civilian victims dying for their propaganda value in discrediting democracies. So, Shujaat got it right, but for the wrong reasons. To this observer, there really are parallels between Jenin and Falujah.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
How Cute: An Error
You may have seen this, but:
1) Go to Google
2) Type in "weapons of mass destruction" (no caps, NO ENTER KEY)
3) Click "I'm feeling lucky" button, NOT "Google search"
4) Read the "error message." How clever.
Or, just click here...., if Google shuts this down (or you want to save time).
(Careful with any further click-throughs, though: the jerk infested them with pop-ups and adware. Nothing dangerous, but it is obnoxious)
Not European Enough
Friday, November 19, 2004
I am on radio shows in Canada now and again. My favorite gig is on Charles Adler's zoo in Winnipeg on CJOB. (for Adler: think of your conservative uncle Murray on crystal meth, and REALLY pissed off; very funny guy).
The subject, more often than not, is Canada's loony left MP's. Retiring the trophy, as of now, for LLMP's is Carolyn Parrish.
She is a woman with (as they say) "a past." I like those. When she is trying to act like a real MP, she looks like this. But, this or this is more like the real Ms. Parrish. Those things, I don't like so much. Hard to know what to say, though, to a Canadian audience. Does she get to act that way? Sure. Is she getting reelected because she acts that way? Probably. Do I hate it when people have conversations with themselves, asking and answering questions as if they were Donald Rumsfeld? You bet.
A description of Parrish....by Gillian Cosgrove. From 2003, before all the current controversy. Good to see that women like Parrish can be just as big a jerk as men can be. And terrific to see that Canadian politicians are rewarded for acting like Americans, eh?
LIFE AND TIMES OF CAROLYN PARRISH
MP'S past is littered with examples of incivility and hate
BY GILLIAN COSGROVE
Who, exactly, is this appalling woman? How does she get away with being so nasty and offensive? This mean-spirited boor is, of course, Carolyn Parrish, the truly dishonourable Member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre.
Parrish made headlines last month when, on the brink of war, she insulted the Americans by saying "I hate those bastards" - A REMARK THAT HAS SO ANGERED THE White House that the U.S. ambassador to Canada this week mentioned it specifically in his heartfelt statements about American's sense of betrayal by Canada.
And the Americans aren't the only ones who're furious. She has so thoroughly alienated many of her Ottawa colleagues that she actually lost her job this week as chair of Canada's NATO parliamentary group (wisely, she was replace by pro-U.S. David Price.)
Some were prepared to dismiss her anti-American insult as an tactless off-the-cuff remark outside the House of Commons recorded by ultra-sensitive boom microphones. But a careful examination of her past reveals a track record of remarks so vile, and conduct so utterly lacking in human civility, that decent-minded voters of Mississauga will surely toss her out of office come the next federal election.
It turns out that Americans aren't the only objects of her hatred. Also on her personal blacklist are East Coast fishermen, French-speaking Quebecers, residents of downtown Toronto, members of her own Liberal Party, and even her boss, Jean Chretien.
(He would do well to distance himself from Parrish; failing to discipline her gives the impression he condones her distasteful comments. As for Paul Martin, he needs her support in the leadership race like he needs a hole in the head.)
More often than not, Parrish's pronouncements are couched in the language of the gutter, contrary to the time-honoured parliamentary tradition which dictates that even the most intransigent political enemies treat each other with courtesy and respect.
She accused John McCallum, the Defence Minister, of "farting around in Washington." She denounced Liberal MPs who criticize Chretien anonymously as "sneaking, sniveling shitheads." She told the Mississauga News that she was "tired of kissing ass up here (in Ottawa.)"
Parrish's cheap shots often have a bullying tone, and stop just short of character assassination. Clashing with Beryl Ford, chair of the Peel Board of Education over the English as a second language program, Parrish threatened to "beat her up."
She called seven members of the Liberal caucus "toads, dull blunt clods" and "desperate idiots" for being Martin supporters. The targets -- colleagues John Harvard, Diane Marleau, Stan Keyes, Nick Discepola, Joe Fontana, Rick Limoges, and Paul Bonwick -- showed class and maturity by refusing to descend to her gutter-sniping tactics.
She also threatened, as vice-chair of a committee that administer the House. To discipline a journalist if he dared to publish what she had said - a threat to press freedom that media organizations should challenge and condemn.
Parrish's record of shameless behviour goes further back. In March 1999, she accused fellow Mississauga MP Albina Guarnieri of being "evil" for introducing a private members' bill on consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers. "I think she's evil, but I have never called her evil," Parrish said at the time. "I think she believes passionately that she is doing the right thing, and that is the only reason you don't just grab her and throttle her."
Come on, get a grip, Mrs. Parrish. In my experience, democratic legislators are all well-intentioned, sometimes misguided, but never evil. Your friend, Saddam Hussein is evil.
Instances of Parrish's vulgarian behaviour have become the stuff of legend. Ted Woloshyn, the popular talk show host on CFRB, some months ago overheard a disgruntled Parrish in a restaurant engaging in a loud-mouthed, obscenity-laden rant against the prime minister for failing to put her in the cabinet. He deemed it newsworthy enough to broadcast the fact to his listeners. (Thankfully, in the case, the PM showed good judgement by keeping her out of cabinet.)
Parrish is also a loose cannon with her outrageous slurs. In Halifax, she attacked East Coast fishermen who "fish three months of the year, make $60,000 and then sit on UI." This is simplistic and offensive, if not downright ignorant.
In 1995, just before the razor-edge referendum which threatened to break up Canada, Parrish went on Rogers Cable TV to declare in a know-it-all tone: "I hate to tell everybody and I particularly hope that Quebecers don't watch this show. It (the referendum) is being greeted with an enormous yawn in Mississauga. Quite frankly, I think it almost like a form of torture. It's constant dripping, whining, and fussing from Quebec. Everybody's going: "Oh!
I don't care." Well, many of us did care enough to take buses to Montreal to join in a giant last minute rally in support of a united Canada.
In 1996, Parrish suggested that the Liberals have to buy off the vote in downtown Toronto: "We're tired of sending money to downtown Toronto. The Liberals can't sit back and rely on their traditional ethnic support to carry the day anymore." This comment is way off base; cash-strapped Toronto has been ignored by Ottawa for years because Liberals here are considered shoo-ins.
Parrish consistently runs off at the mouth before her brain starts churning.
In February 1994, she expressed her vehement opposition to a new runway at Pearson International Airport. "There will be no runways. If there are, they will be over my dead body." So how do you explain, just four months later, her keen support of the new runway, criticizing opponents because "they don't give a damn about the economics of the situation." Consistency is not her forte.
Finally, in an incident that raised eyebrows everywhere, Parrish was dismissively cruel to a Polish immigrant family who came to her for help to stay in Canada.
She subjected Pawel and Beata Sklarzyk to yelling and profanity in front of their children aged, 2, 4, 11, and 15 saying "I don't give a shit if you found a high powered lawyer to get your story in the Globe and Mail."
The Sklarzyks came to Canada with their two older children in 1994. They renewed their visitor's visas three times and then stayed on illegally. Mr. Sklarzyk started a small window washing and caulking business and the couple had two more children. When a refugee claim was denied, the family applied for an exemption on humanitarian grounds. But instead of sending the required $1,200 payment, they mistakenly sent only $1,150 -- a $50 error that upended their lives and left them in legal limbo. The family was deported in May 2001.
Parrish accused the Sklarzyks of being queue-jumpers and even went so far as to suggest that Mrs. Sklarzyk had two more children in Canada to improve their chances of remaining. She also made the snide and totally unacceptable remark that they must be quite well-off because their two eldest children were going to a private religious school.
Nearly two years later, the Sklarzyks are still in Poland hoping to return to Canada. They had an interview with a Canadian immigration official in October in Warsaw. "They are very tired of waiting but still hopeful they can return," said Isabela Embalo, a Polish immigration consultant.
In the end, it wasn't just that Parrish had no hesitation to wreck an entire family's life. It was that she did it with such cruelty, vulgarity, and utter lack of compassion.
I find this difficult to understand. After all, Carolyn Parrish is definitely unpolished but she IS Polish.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
Was listening to Jethro Tull in the coche de Grease yesterday. Haven't heard "Broadsword" in years.
Here are the lyrics:
I see a dark sail on the horizon
Set under a dark cloud that hides the sun
Bring me my Broadsword and clear understanding
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman
Get up to the roundhouse on the cliff-top standing
Take women and children and bed them down.
Bring me my Broadsword and clear understanding
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman
Bless with a hard heart those who surround me
Bless the women and children who firm our hands
Put our backs to the North wind. Hold fast by the river
Sweet memories to drive us on for the Motherland.
Except for the "clear understanding," this could be George Bush talking. What a difference clear understanding would make. Fantastic song, tho.
I have no words....
Came across this image.
The woman is Ann Coulter. The grave is "Tailgunner Joe's". She stands on the shoulders (or in this case, the coffin) of giants in her field.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
UN is the loneliest number
I am stunned that people think the corruption of the UN is "news." The oil for food program in Iraq was just the latest in a sorry, sordid string of failures and outrages for the world's most self-righteous organization.
Face it, "UN resolution" is an oxymoron.
I have an actual picture of a UN oil-for-food administrator. (No, don't thank me. All part of the service)
An update: A loyal reader suggests that the UN is really only the third most self-righteous entity. And, of course, she is right: the MLA would have to come in first on any such list, and Barbara Streisand is a close second. But I was restricting myself to (1) people from Earth, and (2) IQs over 45, respectively.
Second update: Another gentle reader suggested that the original picture was...ungentle. Here it is, for those in a situation where a NOT WORK SAFE photo would appropriate.
Monday, November 15, 2004
Arafat: He would not stay for an answer
For a sympathetic view, see Shujaat's portrayal of the Palestinian leader.
It would bring a tear to your eye, if you didn't know the truth, which is rather more complex.
(And, the darker side is really quite terrifying).
"What is truth?" said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.
A Flea bites dog story
Which of the following is least surprising:
1. The sanctions were NOT working (If that link is hinky, try this)
2. Iran promises (we mean it this time!) not to develop any more uranium
3. There is no Santa Claus
(Play it. You know you want it. Play it.)
Fall Down Go Boom
Love the Man, Hate the Mandate
Sunday, November 14, 2004
This WSJ article was written by Robert Bartley in September, 2003. Pretty shrewd observations, and came to be more true than ever 14 months later.
[T]he self-identity of the Democratic base is still wrapped up in Vietnam. In fact Vietnam started as a liberal, Democratic war, so turning against it had to be justified by assertions of a higher morality, especially among those with student deferments from the draft. The notion that military force was immoral, even that American power was immoral, was deeply imbedded in the psyche of Democratic activists everywhere.
Now comes George Bush asserting that American power will be used pre-emptively to avert terrorist attacks on America, to establish American values as universal values. This so profoundly challenges the activists' self-image that they can only lash out in anger. Not many of them actively hope the U.S. fails in Iraq, of course, but they are in a constant state of denial that it might succeed.
What's more, this challenge is brought to them by a born-again MBA from Midland, Texas. This is a further challenge to their image of the best people, secular Ivy-league intellectuals. And to twist the knife, President Bush actually comes from an aristocratic family and went to prep school, Yale and Harvard. He has rejected these values for those of Texas.
Current Democratic anger will likely in the fullness of time prove to be the rantings of an establishment in the process of being displaced. Come to think of it, they sound like nothing so much as the onetime ire of staid Republicans at Franklin D. Roosevelt as "a traitor to his class."