“UK RIP?”:


  At the heart of the nationalist campaign is the claim that Scotland would be a more prosperous and more equal country if it went solo. It is rich in oil and inherently decent, say the nationalists, but impoverished by a government in Westminster that has also imposed callous policies. They blame successive British governments for almost every ill that has befallen Scotland, from the decline of manufacturing industry to ill-health to the high price of sending parcels in the Highlands. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s nationalist leader, is broad in his recrimination: Labour and the Tories are of a piece, he suggests, in their disregard for Scotland.
  
  But Scotland’s relative economic decline is the result not of southern neglect but of the shift of manufacturing and shipping to Asia. If Westminster has not reversed all the deleterious effects of globalisation and technology, that is because to do so is impossible. The nationalists know this, which is why, sotto voce, they would continue many of Westminster’s policies.

“UK RIP?”:

At the heart of the nationalist campaign is the claim that Scotland would be a more prosperous and more equal country if it went solo. It is rich in oil and inherently decent, say the nationalists, but impoverished by a government in Westminster that has also imposed callous policies. They blame successive British governments for almost every ill that has befallen Scotland, from the decline of manufacturing industry to ill-health to the high price of sending parcels in the Highlands. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s nationalist leader, is broad in his recrimination: Labour and the Tories are of a piece, he suggests, in their disregard for Scotland.

But Scotland’s relative economic decline is the result not of southern neglect but of the shift of manufacturing and shipping to Asia. If Westminster has not reversed all the deleterious effects of globalisation and technology, that is because to do so is impossible. The nationalists know this, which is why, sotto voce, they would continue many of Westminster’s policies.

Posted on Sunday, September 14th, at 1:15 AM (∞). Available in higher resolution.

Nearly half a decade on from the financial crisis, many troubling weaknesses in the global economy remain unaddressed. Deleveraging is occuring dreadfully slowly in many rich countries. “Imbalances” have scarcely been diminished. Monetary policy has propped up economic growth, temporarily buying time for broader structural reforms that governments have failed to deliver. The scope for central banks to do more is limited and the risks of further action are rising. Meanwhile, government debt is a huge threat, particularly given continued problems of undercapitalised banks in some economies. Somehow, governments must return to budget surplus in order to maintain market confidence and create room for future bank rescues, while remaining conscious of the potential blow to growth from dramatic short-term austerity. The immediate future is all sackcloth and ashes.

The overarching theme is quite simple: central banks have done what the economic situation has called for and then some, and they should not and cannot be expected to do much more. Instead, other economic policymakers must finally heed central bankers’ recommendations for how to clean up their messes, fiscal, structural, and otherwise. It strikes me as a deeply mistaken view of the state of the world economy and the proper role of the central banker.

— Free Exchange: “The Twilight of the Central Banker”

Posted on Sunday, July 1st, at 12:00 PM (∞).

Justifying his vote against the act, Rand Paul compared it to Soviet communism. This is sort of a dog bites man story; on a given day, Rand Paul probably compares several dozen things to Soviet communism. But here, for what it’s worth, is why he thinks legislation to make it easier for women to sue when they’ve been paid less than men for doing the same job is just like Soviet communism:

"Three hundred million people get to vote everyday on what you should be paid or what the price of goods are," Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. "In the Soviet Union, the Politburo decided the price of bread, and they either had no bread or too much bread. So setting prices or wages by the government is always a bad idea."

Mr Paul does not appear to understand either the law which he has just voted against, or the class of economic transaction about which he is speaking. If a woman sues because she has been paid less than a man for doing the same work, and a judge rules in her favour, that is not an instance of “setting prices or wages by the government”. The wage in question was set by the employer. What the judge has ruled is that the employer cannot offer different wages to different employees based on their sex.

— Democracy in America: “Protecting Individual Rights Is Not Stalinist”

Posted on Sunday, July 1st, at 10:28 AM (∞).
It’s a fair question whether banning Big Gulps will actually accomplish much towards reducing obesity, and whether this qualifies as “doing something” rather than just making a political gesture. But it’s clear what the mayor is talking about here: he’s thinking in the abstract as a member of society, and trying to figure out how to reduce his society’s rate of obesity. His language is a fairly representative example of how liberals talk about obesity. Liberals don’t view this as a problem of individual obese people, moral weaklings in need of discipline for their own good; that’s the approach you’ll see on The Biggest Loser, and while it can be compelling in the case of those individuals who sign up to be disciplined, as a strategy for tackling a national public-health problem it’s gibberish. Rather, liberals ask what kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to be a society of fat people eating lots of objectively unhealthy food?

— Democracy in America: “In Defence of Baby Authoritarianism”

Posted on Saturday, June 30th, at 4:25 PM (∞).
Nevertheless, the Clinton-era boom and the rise of a rather less fantastic internet economy laid to rest fears of Gen X’s waning fortunes, and my cohort went forth into a sunlit world of stock options, companionate marriages and Netflix marathons. But then, cruel fate, it finally came to pass that Ethan, Winona, Janeane and Ben were more or less vindicated. Reality does bite. We are suffering a great stagnation. Where once I saw pathetic hand-wringing, now I see a venerable American rite of passage. Every generation must contemplate the dread prospect of faring worse than the preceding.

— Democracy in America: “Generational Decline: Reality Bites”

Posted on Saturday, June 30th, at 2:53 PM (∞).

[P]erhaps most fascinating of all, increased scientific literacy only increased the cultural divide [over climate change].

David Roberts captures the upshot of all this.

The operative concept here is “motivated reasoning.” The idea is, we begin by absorbing the values of our tribes — what is and isn’t important, what is and isn’t a risk — and use whatever numeracy and scientific literacy we possess to seek out facts and arguments that support those views. Getting smarter, in other words, only makes us better at justifying our own worldviews. It does not necessarily give us more scientifically accurate worldviews.

— Democracy in America: “Group Dynamics”

Posted on Monday, June 4th, at 6:03 PM (∞).

The argument is that, unlike some of its European neighbours, the British population is still rising rapidly, thanks in part to immigration. Indeed, the British population will become larger than that of Germany in the mid-21st century, on its way to nearly 80 million by 2100.

This argument was rather surprising since one would have thought that demographics would act against house prices. The baby boomers will be retiring in the next two decades and trading down to smaller places; in some cases, they will be forced to sell their homes outright to meet their nursing care bills. Meanwhile young people are shut out of the housing market by high prices and their inability to afford a deposit (this is one reason why you would expect house prices to have a link with incomes over the long run).

— Buttonwood’s Notebook: “House Prices: A Crowded Island”

Posted on Monday, March 19th, at 3:43 PM (∞).
Bagehot: “Crime and Democracy”:


  It is the sort of story that riles law-and-order-minded politicians. Conservatives describe public outrage at soft justice and at a system that, in the words of the home secretary, Theresa May, turns police into social workers, their hands tied with red tape and political correctness. The angriest Tories describe what amounts to a culture war. On one side stands a liberal elite—their paternalism often buttressed by living in nice, orderly neighbourhoods—obsessed with criminals’ rights and with diverting offenders from the criminal-justice system. On the other stand the no-nonsense majority, who have to live among swaggering yobs and want them punished.

Bagehot: “Crime and Democracy”:

It is the sort of story that riles law-and-order-minded politicians. Conservatives describe public outrage at soft justice and at a system that, in the words of the home secretary, Theresa May, turns police into social workers, their hands tied with red tape and political correctness. The angriest Tories describe what amounts to a culture war. On one side stands a liberal elite—their paternalism often buttressed by living in nice, orderly neighbourhoods—obsessed with criminals’ rights and with diverting offenders from the criminal-justice system. On the other stand the no-nonsense majority, who have to live among swaggering yobs and want them punished.

Posted on Monday, February 27th, at 12:00 PM (∞). Available in higher resolution.
There are probably some people trying to argue that we should be demanding Apple make its iPhones in America to avoid infractions of its corporate code of conduct. Mr. Ozimek cites Andrew Leonard’s article at Salon about a labour-union official who said in his search for an ethically manufactured mobile phone he considered buying Samsung because their phones are largely manufactured in South Korea, where safety regulations are better enforced. This is not a significant phenomenon. Vanishingly few people will ever go to the trouble this labour-union official has gone to in researching the sourcing of his phone, so any hypothetical harms from such decisions will fail to develop.

— Democracy in America: “Foxconn and Labour Laws: Using Globalisation for Good”

Posted on Monday, February 27th, at 10:30 AM (∞).
Free Exchange: “The Phony War”:


  There are two reasons Mr Obama’s budgets have become irrelevant, one good and one bad. The first, good reason is that since 2008 balancing the budget has simply had to take a back seat to averting economic collapse. Nominal GDP this year will be 6%, or almost $1 trillion, smaller than Mr Obama projected three years ago. That miss alone explains some of the worsening in the deficit and debt ratios. The remainder is largely down to explicit decisions to delay tax increases and spending cuts. The resulting red ink is not pretty but plainly better than applying a fiscal vice at a time when monetary policymakers are running out of ideas for stimulating demand.
  
  The second, bad reason is that the parties are deeply polarised, largely over Republicans’ refusal to consider tax increases on a scale that Democrats consider meaningful. The result of these two forces is that fiscal policy only gets made when it absolutely must, usually in late-night white knuckle negotiating sessions with a sword hanging over the heads of both parties: the expiration of Mr Bush’s tax cuts in December, 2010; a government shutdown in April, 2011; and a near-default last August.

Free Exchange: “The Phony War”:

There are two reasons Mr Obama’s budgets have become irrelevant, one good and one bad. The first, good reason is that since 2008 balancing the budget has simply had to take a back seat to averting economic collapse. Nominal GDP this year will be 6%, or almost $1 trillion, smaller than Mr Obama projected three years ago. That miss alone explains some of the worsening in the deficit and debt ratios. The remainder is largely down to explicit decisions to delay tax increases and spending cuts. The resulting red ink is not pretty but plainly better than applying a fiscal vice at a time when monetary policymakers are running out of ideas for stimulating demand.

The second, bad reason is that the parties are deeply polarised, largely over Republicans’ refusal to consider tax increases on a scale that Democrats consider meaningful. The result of these two forces is that fiscal policy only gets made when it absolutely must, usually in late-night white knuckle negotiating sessions with a sword hanging over the heads of both parties: the expiration of Mr Bush’s tax cuts in December, 2010; a government shutdown in April, 2011; and a near-default last August.

Posted on Tuesday, February 14th, at 10:40 AM (∞). Available in higher resolution.

Inspired by Matt Thomas’s New York Times Digest.

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