Archives: July, 2010

‘Contract on America’ Parody Actually Sounds Pretty Good

In an apparent attempt to simultaneously slander the Tea Party movement and preempt some of the themes the Republican Party will run on come Labor Day, the Democratic National Committee is announcing today the “Republican Tea Party Contract on America.”  Echoing Newt Gingrich’s 1994 “Contract with America,” the faux manifesto contains the following ten points:

  1. Repeal the Affordable Care Act (Health Care Reform)
  2. Privatize Social Security (or phase it out altogether)
  3. End Medicare as it presently exists
  4. Extend the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy and big oil
  5. Repeal Wall Street Reform
  6. Protect those responsible for the oil spill and future environmental catastrophes
  7. Abolish the Department of Education
  8. Abolish the Department of Energy
  9. Abolish the Environmental Protection Agency
  10. Repeal the 17th Amendment which provides for the direct election of senators

Now, I might quibble with some of the phrasing for both accuracy and PR – e.g., “permanently lower tax rates” rather than provide “breaks” for any particular group; nobody’s talking about protecting BP from liability but the drilling moratorium has spawned riskier practices farther away from the coast – but otherwise this looks pretty good.  The Democrats may well have stumbled on a winning platform, the only way they can forestall the massive losses expected this fall!

I mean, sustained majorities of Americans already favor number 1, support for number 5 drops the more people find out what’s in the actual “reform,” and numbers 7 and 8 have been popular ever since the GOP put them in their Reagan-era platform (since removed).  Again, a lot depends on how you understand each particular item – “end Medicare as it presently exists” could mean anything from nationalizing to privatizing to means-testing – but this list is a great start for taking back America from bureaucrats and big-government types and restoring lost individual freedoms.

For more ideas, see Cato’s Handbook for Policymakers.

Is Newt Gingrich Drawing on Camus or Carl Schmitt?

Andrew Sullivan points us to this report that Newt Gingrich is going to tell an audience at AEI that the Obama administration is engaging in “willful blindness” and “self-deception” about the threat posed to the United States by Islam.  In the wake of his remarks urging the United States to emulate Saudi Arabian standards of religious freedom, Gingrich has promised to deploy “the lessons of Camus and Orwell” to illuminate our present predicament.

“Evading the confrontation with Evil may bring a second Holocaust. The mistakes made by the White House will exact a terrible price.”

What’s interesting is that this sort of thing is a long-standing trope in Gingrich’s rhetorical repertoire, although he has reserved it mostly for Israeli audiences.  In 2007, Gingrich went to Israel and informed a group gathered at the Herzliya Conference that Israel was facing the prospect of a “second Holocaust.”  Perhaps drawing on the lessons of Habermas, Gingrich explained that

We don’t have right language, goals, structure, or operating speed, to defeat our enemies. My hope is that being this candid and direct, I could open a dialogue that will force people to come to grips with how serious this is, how real it is, how much we are threatened. If that fails, at least we will be intellectually prepared for the correct results once we have lost one or more cities.

This year, Gingrich published a commentary in a right-wing Israeli tabloid owned by Sheldon Adelson repeating these arguments, with the paper promising readers that

The behavior of the Obama administration regarding Iran and terror is characterized by a complete disconnect from reality. Gingrich, a prominent Republican Party leader, warns that the Western Elites are evading a confrontation with Evil and that the flight from reality could bring a second Holocaust to the Jewish People. An alarm bell, before it’s too late.

Israel faces a range of important international security problems.  Israelis have much more reason to be concerned about their national security than do Americans.  And it’s entirely reasonable that people would disagree about the nature and breadth of the threats to Israel, let alone what to do about them.  But this sort of thing is absolutely irresponsible.  I find it striking that Gingrich has repeatedly lectured Israeli audiences and informed them–presumably based on his knowledge as a Washington insider–that his own government’s policy threatens a second Holocaust on the Jewish people.  Is this a view he really holds?  If so, I would think he would be much more alarmed than he is acting at present.

While Gingrich is claiming that his current proclamations are grounded in Orwell and Camus, it seems to me that his overall Friend-Enemy politics of late owe a good bit to Carl Schmitt.

Duncan: One Size Fits All = Bad; Uniform National Standards = Good

Touting the latest states to make the finals for Race-to-the-Top funding at the National Press Club today, education secretary Arne Duncan declared that:

We are a very long way from the classroom in Washington and if we have learned one thing from NCLB, it’s that one-size-fits-all remedies generally don’t work.

While secretary Duncan claims to recognize the futility of one-size-fits-all policies in education, his and the president’s own ”Race to the Top” program extorts states into adopting the mother of all such policies: uniform national curriculum standards. Signing on to such standards is one of the key criteria by which the RTT funding was doled out.

As anyone who has ever met more than a handful of children might be expected to know: kids differ from one another. This creates problems when you try to teach them all the same things at the same time. Here’s how I put it earlier this year:

Any single set of age-based standards, no matter how thoughtfully conceived, will necessarily be too slow or too fast for most children. Consider a concrete example. The new CCSSI math standards place trigonometric functions (sine, cosine, etc.) well into the high school curriculum. Students would be taught this material in their mid teens. What good would that do for someone like Dick, who wrote this:

[W]hen I was eleven or twelve, I had read a book on trigonometry that I had checked out from the library. … A few years later, when we studied trigonometry in school, I still had my notes and I saw that my [theorem proofs] were often different from those in the book. Sometimes, for a thing where I didn’t notice a simple way to do it, I went all over the place till I got it. Other times, my way was most clever — the standard demonstration in the book was much more complicated! So sometimes I had ‘em beat, and sometimes it was the other way around.

Dick — Richard P. Feynmann — told many other entertaining stories in his book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynmann … like the time he asked a Time magazine reporter if he could refuse the Nobel Prize in Physics (“no”).

How does teaching (or re-teaching) trigonometry to all children at the same age help math whizzes like Feynmann? How does it help kids who find mathematics rough going, and lag behind their peers no matter how much support they receive from parents and teachers? The answer is obvious: it doesn’t.

Anyone who follows politics will be used to a certain level of ambient hypocrisy, but it is nevertheless staggering to see Duncan acknowledge the futility of one-size-fits-all solutions at an event celebrating his policy for deliberality orchestrating one-size-fits-all standards for 50 million kids.

No, There Are NOT “Five Job Seekers for Every Job Opening”

The Washington Post published “5 Myths about unemployment” by Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.  The article is indeed full of myths, though not in the intended sense. 

“There are now roughly five unemployed people for every available job,” says Ms. Shierholz,  adding “there literally aren’t jobs for four of every five unemployed workers.” That statement has been repeated endlessly− in recent columns by Paul Krugman and Art Laffer, for example, and in a July 20 Wall Street Journal editorial which said “there are still five job seekers for every job opening.”

Regardless how often you hear this, the statement is completely false.  After all, the same survey that showed only 3.2 million “job openings” in May also showed 4.5 million people were hired that month.   If 3.2 million “openings” measured all available jobs, as Ms. Shierholz claims, then how did 4.5 million get hired?  I exposed this myth and others in my June 10 Wall Street Journal article. “The myth that there are nearly six job seekers for every available job,” I wrote, “arises from the misnamed BLS ‘Job Opening and Turnover Survey’ (JOLTS), which asks a few thousand businesses how many new jobs they are actively advertising outside the firm. But note well that this concept of ‘job openings’ does not purport to include ‘every available job.’ On the contrary, it is closer to being a measure of help wanted ads. ‘Many jobs are never advertised,’ explains the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook; ‘People get them by talking to friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, teachers, former coworkers, and others who know of an opening.’ Because many jobs are never advertised they are also never counted as job openings!  The BLS Handbook also notes that, ‘Directly contacting employers is one of the most successful means of job hunting.’ Those jobs are also not counted as job openings.” 

Unfortunately, I apparently failed to persuade even the Wall Street Journal editors about this statistical hoax.  So, let’s get a second opinion. 

The Minneapolis Fed recently interviewed Stanford economist Robert Hall, the famed co-author of Hall-Rabushka flat tax and (as he once told me) a “Clinton Democrat.”  For 32 years he has chaired the NBER committee that defines the dates of business cycles.  If he’s not an expert, who is?

Hall noted that “there’s been a decline in the profitability of hiring a worker without a corresponding decline in the wage. The incentive to create a job is the difference between what a worker will contribute to the business and what the worker has to be paid.”  But he also noted that the difficulty of finding a job is not just because fewer jobs are created, but because employers “do relatively little to try to recruit workers” when unemployment is high:  “Interestingly, the number of people who find jobs each month  is more or less a constant…,” said Hall, ”So, something like 4 million people find jobs every month.  Even with 10 percent unemployment, as recently, we’ve still seen the same thing. A very large number of people looking, very low job-finding rate for each individual, but the product—the number of jobs filled—is roughly a constant. It’s a very important fact about the labor market.  Think about a slack market from an employer’s point of view.  They see there are all kinds of highly qualified people out there they can hire easily, so they don’t need to do a lot of recruiting— people are pounding on the door.”

When job seekers are pounding on the door, the number of advertised “job openings” is a useless indicator of the much larger number who actually find jobs.   If the Washington Post were really interested in exposing myths about unemployment, they could start by debunking the myth that the “job openings” survey means “there literally aren’t jobs for four of every five unemployed workers.”  That is literally hogwash.

DISCLOSE Near the End

The cloture vote on the DISCLOSE Act will soon be taken. It appears that its supporters lack the votes to close off debate.

Brad Smith explains some of the problems of DISCLOSE.

Roger Pilon notes other failings.

President Obama tried to rally the troops yesterday by taking a populist tone. I have never thought Obama was a very good demagogue, and his efforts at populism belie his strengths. President Obama and congressional Democrats are hoping a defeated DISCLOSE will be good for their fall campaigns. Historically, campaign finance issues have had little salience with the public. On these issues, more than others, hope does seem to spring eternal.

Incumbency as a Special Interest

Today Politico Arena asks:

Is DISCLOSE dead on arrival?

My response:
With the American public, especially the long unemployed, clamoring for ever-more campaign finance regulations, you’d think that passage of the Democrat’s DISCLOSE Act would be a piece of cake. Yet the party that perfected the politics of special interests is coming up short in its effort to pass a measure they claim will protect us from special interest politics. The ironies are endless.

Take the most obvious: Notwithstanding its purported purpose, this bill is replete with carve-outs for special interests, from the NRA to the Sierra Club and far beyond. The special treatment of unions is of course a dead giveaway about the real motives behind the bill. Then there’s the bill’s failure to preserve the anonymity of small donors – nominally the constituency of Democrats, and the people campaign finance “reform” purports to protect through its myriad “leveling” provisions – the chilling effects of which have contributed to the ACLU’s opposition to the bill. And speaking of chilling effects, disclosure aside, the onerous reporting requirements alone will chill the speech of many.

But perhaps the greatest irony of all concerns the conflict of interest that pervades such legislation. Here we have a party that will assiduously sniff out any conceivable conflict of interest that a business might have calling for more regulations, the effect of which will make it harder for opponents to challenge their incumbency. Talk about a conflict of interest – incumbents writing the rules under which challengers and their supporters may speak in upcoming elections. The First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law …” – was written to prohibit that kind of self-dealing.

Party Control Lives on in China

Andrew Higgins of the Washington Post reviews a new book on the continuing power of the Communist Party in sort-of-capitalist China:

McGregor points out that ‘Lenin, who designed the prototype used to run communist countries around the world, would recognize the [Chinese] model immediately.’ Case in point: the Central Organization Department, the party’s vast and opaque human resources agency. It has no public phone number, and there is no sign on the huge building it occupies near Tiananmen Square. Guardian of the party’s personnel files, the department handles key personnel decisions not only in the government bureaucracy but also in business, media, the judiciary and even academia. Its deliberations are all secret. If such a body existed in the United States, McGregor writes, it ‘would oversee the appointment of the entire US cabinet, state governors and their deputies, the mayors of major cities, the heads of all federal regulatory agencies, the chief executives of GE, Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart and about fifty of the remaining largest US companies, the justices of the Supreme Court, the editors of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, the bosses of the TV networks and cable stations, the presidents of Yale and Harvard and other big universities, and the heads of think-tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.’

But not the Cato Institute, you betcha!