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Why austerity was cool

The idea that austerity could help economies by ending profligacy and wastefulness has been proved wrong again. It’s been wrong based on the evidence since the 1930s. For a while, everybody knew that. Then “everybody” forgot it, it became all the rage in policy circles, and now it’s failing again as badly as fantasies do.

So why was it listened to? Gradually, I see more and more people noting the obvious answer. “Because it’s what the Powers That Be wanted to hear.” [You’ll notice most of the links point to Krugman. Yes, I get large chunks of my econ news from him.]

That’s important because even the most perfect spreadsheet can’t fix it. (Background if you’d like it: Konczal’s article on Herndon’s Reinhart-Rogoff criticism.) If the problem is denial of facts and not the lack of facts, then clearer and louder facts won’t help. When people want to hear something, they hear it. If the Powers That Be want to hear that austerity is the answer, and all the economists refuse to tell them so, they’ll simply start getting their answers from physicists or CEOs. Consider the unanimity among climate scientists that humans are causing global warming, and the total lack of those scientists when politicians find “authorities” to deny anthropogenic climate change.

The first question becomes why the austerity message was so captivating. I’ve seen it explained as the desire for the neatness of a morality play. (“Spending? Bad! You must pay for your sins!”) But that idea makes no sense. If the Powers That Be were that interested in morality, I can think of many things ripe for punishment. Yet somehow the only programs in need of scourging hit people poorer than the PTB.

I also don’t think that the unwillingness to admit being wrong explains everything. It can explain a lot. But it doesn’t explain why they fell for such a thoroughly debunked fallacy in the first place. These are all intelligent people with a lot of training in reading comprehension. They don’t make such floaters unless they want to.

The simplest place to start when probing motives is to follow the methods of the experts, homicide detectives, and ask, “Who benefits?”

Money should be taken from the poor, the sick, the elderly, because … because what? There’s nowhere else to get it? I can think of two other large pots of money in the USA. One is the spending on expensive military hardware. Two is the absurdly low tax rates paid by corporations and wealthy individuals, the “one percenters.”

Could it be that by directing attention to the weakest members of society they’re hoping nobody notices that their money could solve any shortfalls better, (socially) cheaper, and faster?

Why, yes. Yes, I think it could. This is a classic example of “don’t tax him, don’t tax me, tax the fellow behind the tree.” It’s understandable. We all feel that way. But that doesn’t make it right or intelligent or likely to deliver the greatest good to the greatest number.

Diagnosis accomplished in two easy steps and the only training needed is an appropriately suspicious nature. That means it can easily be applied in real time.

That diagnosis also makes the solution painfully evident. Everybody’s seen it who isn’t hypnotized by wealth. Money from the rich has to be a factor. It’s not off the table, inconceivable, crazy talk. Because the solution is so obvious, it could even be applied before we have a problem, which is the nicest time to apply solutions.

And that’s why austerity was so cool for so long. It’s allowed the Powers That Be to say for years, “Look! Over there. Poor people getting money!” while keeping their piles of tax-sheltered wealth right out of the discussion.

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Getting rights wrong: the example from Rand Paul

Charles Pierce is down on Rand Paul for babbling nonsense about civil rights.

…the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 [titles] deal with public institutions and I’m absolutely in favor of,” he told Maddow deep in their 15-minute interview. “One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.”

What modifications would you like to make? Cleaner “Colored Only” bathrooms? Marble “Colored Only” drinking fountains?

Much of the discussion of Aqua Buddha’s rise to prominence has focused on his political philosophy, and far too little has been focused on the fact that he’s pretty much dumb as a stump.

I’m not so sure, unless it’s in the sense that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Because all he’s doing is being consistent.

Being a good Randian, he seems to believe that property rights trump everything. If that’s true, then he’s quite right. You can’t tell anyone to respect civil rights on private property. Which means that there would be no real civil rights at all. If the only place you have rights is at the Post Office or on other government property, you may as well use the paper your rights are printed on for bird cage liner.

That is always the result when the hierarchy of rights is not in the correct order. Some rights have to take precedence over others for any of them to mean anything. If, as just one example, you have no freedom of motion, there’s no freedom of assembly, and then there’s no freedom of religion. It’s a complicated issue, but one thing is for sure: if the priority is wrong, you’ll wind up spouting absurdities so fast, everybody will say you’re dumb as a stump.

But if you don’t realize that the root of the problem is getting rights in the wrong order you’re making yourself vulnerable to the same criticism. Obliviousness about the need to prioritize rights is behind way too many modern problems. Pollution, for instance, puts property rights ahead of the right to be free of bodily harm. Compulsory pregnancy puts religious ideas ahead of people’s right to make their own decisions about what to do with their own bodies. And if you’re not physically safe, you’re not actually free to exercise the more abstruse rights either.

That’s the problem with getting rights in the wrong order. They all become meaningless, even the usurpers at the top. It’s a bit unfair to call people who make that mistake dumb as stumps because stumps aren’t that stupid.

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Thatcher is in the past

I’ve figured out what bothers me about leftists gloating over Thatcher’s death.

There’s the unseemliness of expressing it much too fast. Everybody, even your bitterest enemy, has the right to bury their dead in peace. But I knew I had a problem with that and it didn’t feel like the whole problem.

The rest of it is that she’s gone. Over and done with. It’s useless to dance on her grave. If you want to support a humane world, do it here and now. Jeer at the so-called progressives who can’t say they’ll stand against Obama’s Republican budget. (Via the essential fatster.) Jeer at Obama for producing a budget that would have done the Iron Lady herself proud.

Feel-good jeering to get an ego boost is repulsive.

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You are for sale (and that’s okay?)

You might as well be a cake of soap on the shelf at the store. The supermarket is “free” for the soap. The soap isn’t paying to be there, and you’re not paying for the web for the same reason. You’re the product.

If you mattered at all you’d be getting a cut of the proceeds.

Google made $60,000,000,000, 60 billion, sixty billion-with-a-b, last year. Eighty eight percent of that is estimated to be from advertising. You are the eyes that advertising is buying. Are you seeing royalties from Google for your essential role in this? How about from Dataium ($2 billion profit per year)? Or BlueKai, Acxiom, or Omniture (now part of Adobe)? How about Splunk? (Don’t you just love the cool, we-juggle-at-the-office names?) Or any of the hundred other hidden internet tracking companies all making profit off you?

In an article about a company that wants to sell people vaults for their personal data, “Fatemeh Khatibloo of Forrester Research said consumers want to know when data about them is collected and stored and by whom, and how it is used.” The Wall Street Journal has a list of how many trackers are planted after visits to common web sites. Dozens. Sometimes hundreds. How many of them do you even know exist, let alone what they collect and how long they store it?

What you want matters as much as what the cake of soap wants.

We’ve lost control over our own lives so completely that most people’s only response is to apply the pragmatism of the damned and ask “Whatchya gonna do?”

I don’t know what to do either. Tactics are never my strong suit. All I really have is one long bellow to SMASH THE BASTARDS.

However, I do know what we should do. We should get our rights back. We should get recognition of the fact that our information is part of our selves. Just as we have the right to control what’s done to our bodies, as in the ancient right of habeas corpus, likewise we have the right to control what’s done to our information. (Also some other posts: 1 and 2.)

Nobody can track you without your explicit consent, and only for the explicit purpose you agreed to. And when you want to revoke the permission, they have to expunge their databases.

Yes, I know that’s so far from current reality as to be ridiculous. But that only speaks badly for current reality. It doesn’t change what’s true.

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Atheists know all about God

Which ought to be a bit surprising. How do they know? They say believers can’t prove god exists. But then, by the same token, the atheists can’t prove god’s nonexistence. Unprovable works both ways.

The problem is that belief is an internal feeling, like loving another person or enjoying the feel of the sun on your back. There’s no way for anyone else to tell you you’re all wrong, you really don’t like the feel of the sun. Nobody else can know that. Nobody can tell you what you feel, since only you can know that.

So where (in god’s name?) does someone like Dennett get off saying religion is a common cold that needs a cure? He also says it’s an addiction that needs a cure. He should make up his mind. The two are very different.

Dennett is new to me. The loudest exponent of the Church Militant of Atheism has been Dawkins, who’s recently been showing his arrogance in new ways. I’m always struck that he honestly does not seem to get the irony of telling people they’re wrong about an unprovable subject because he’s right.

Now, although these beaks claim to be anti-religion, I suspect their knickers are in a twist because of what people do in the name of religion.

They’d be on much stronger ground if they stuck to the subject. You can tell people to keep their beliefs to themselves. You can tell them what they can and can’t do to others. That’s called civil society and a legal system. God is no excuse for killing people over cartoons, for caging women, for destroying the planet because Judgment Day will be along any minute.

Maybe if all these bright thinkers had a truly evidence-based attitude, which can never go further than agnosticism about religion, and used their stature to condemn harm, rather than an unknowable god, we might actually get a bit less harm in the world.

Religion overthrows heresy, sculpture by Pierre Le Gros

Righthinkers overthrow wrong ones (Religion overthrows heresy and hatred, Pierre Le Gros, 1698)

Ricardo André Frantz: Wikimedia

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