Man Without Qualities

Friday, November 22, 2002


Paul Krugman writes that "[t]he official ideology of America's elite remains one of meritocracy," but that America is betraying this ideology by tolerating a "spectacular increase in American inequality" that"has made the gap between the rich and the middle class wider, and hence more difficult to cross, than it was in the past."

Here, as often, Professor Krugman misses the interesting, stranded issues that float - refugees in a frail dinghy - below the arc of his broadsides. Specifically, if it is true as Professor Krugman and the man he describes as his "Princeton colleague Alan Krueger" assert that "inherited status is making a comeback" then where are the twits? That is, where is the spectacular increase in incompetent people holding positions for which they are not qualified that should correspond to this supposed "spectacular increase in American inequality?" For example, one of the principal examples of the advantages of inherited "status" in the past was the ability of unqualified students to attend elite colleges. Has the quality of Princeton undergraduates or applicants - or undergraduates in the Princeton economics department - recently declined, for example? Professors Krugman and Krueger could easily determine that - why don't they say? (Professor Krueger certainly spends a lot of text on education in his discussions of his posited growing "inequality" - even proposing summer school vouchers while avoiding advocating full school vouchers, a dichotomy whose intellectual honesty the reader is invited to evaluate for herself.) Indeed, one also receives the impression from some quarters that if there has been a decline in some parts of the student body at places such as Princeton, it is often attributable to affirmative action programs - not to any brand of inherited privilege.

Professor Krugman does provide some examples of this "broader phenomenon" to which he sounds the alarm, but they only raise the interesting but ignored issue more prominently:

"America, we all know, is the land of opportunity. Your success in life depends on your ability and drive, not on who your father was. Just ask the Bush brothers. Talk to Elizabeth Cheney, who holds a specially created State Department job, or her husband, chief counsel of the Office of Management and Budget. Interview Eugene Scalia, the top lawyer at the Labor Department, and Janet Rehnquist, inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services. And don't forget to check in with William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and the conservative commentator John Podhoretz."

James Taranto points out that this list suggests another agenda on Professor Krugman's part:"To be precise, Krugman is upset that so many prominent Republicans' children are in positions of political prominence. He doesn't mention Al Gore, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Patrick Kennedy, Jesse Jackson Jr., Nancy Pelosi, Harold Ford Jr., Richard M. Daley, Bill Daley, Andrew Cuomo or Evan Bayh."

Mr. Taranto is, of course, completely correct. But the list has another remarkable feature: Professor Krugman provides no support for his implication (or, in the marvelous neologism of former Chicago Mayor Daley, Professor Krugman's insinuendo) that these people are not at least as accomplished as those who previously occupied their positions. That is, there appear to be no listed twits. The presence of William Kristol on the list is particularly telling: He is a brilliant political observer and writer (and the son of another) who almost single-handedly perceived that the Clintons' health care proposals would not be supported by the American people if adequately explained to them, and were, in fact, a political debacle for the Democrats. Mr. Kristol not only understood all that, but he convinced then-terrified Congressional Republicans to stand up to the President and the media on that basis. His accomplishments far exceed in the scope of their influence on matters of national economic significance anything that Professor Krugman can claim for his own. Is there some reason Mr. Kristol should not enjoy prominence? Similarly, Mr. Scalia and Janet Rehnquist both graduated from top law schools and held serious positions or responsibility before their current appointments. Nor are any other people on Professor Krugman's list reported to be incompetent in their positions. (Professor Krugman's references to the "Bush brothers", who within the past few weeks have each accomplished spectacular political successes, is not worth further mention.)

Yet, Professor Krugman entirely ignores Mr. Kristol's accomplishments and writes dismissively: "Mr. Scalia's principal personal claim to fame is his crusade against regulations that protect workers from ergonomic hazards, while Ms. Rehnquist has attracted controversy because of her efforts to weaken the punishment of health-care companies found to have committed fraud." But Mr. Scalia makes a convincing case that the "ergonomic hazards" he opposes are a figment of junk science, and the central purpose of regulation of health-care companies is to provide good health-care to patients, and malefactors should be "punished" only to the extent that central goal is not compromised. Professor Krugman may disagree with Mr. Scalia and Ms. Rehnquist, but he provides no basis for his implication that they are underqualified or beastly.

Of course there will always be twits and always have been twits. Both Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Patrick Kennedy, and perhaps Andrew Cuomo, have at least arguably operated in positions far beyond their personal competence - probably because of family influence and connections. But these two little mentally undernourished Kennedys and a possibly stray Cuomo are scarcely evidence of a "spectacular increase in American inequality."

Is the number of powerful twits increasing - "spectacularly" or otherwise? Or have Professors Krugman and Krueger unwittingly stumbled across a new kind of national "inequality" - an "inequality" which does not install less competent people in valued positions, but nevertheless somehow favors the children of accomplished parents? If so, should one be concerned?

Unfortunately, Professor Krugman's outdated rhetoric of class warfare almost completely obscures whatever economic substance may be present in the topic.

POSTSCRIPT: The focus here is on missed opportunities. This post is not intended to unpack the highly dubious analytics supposedly supporting the positions taken by Professors Krugman and Krueger. But MinuteMan labors cheerfully and diligently in that field. Suffice to say here that Professor Krugman's affection for Alan Krueger and his disapproval of Eugene Scalia perhaps have something to do with Professor Krugman's attitude towards perpetrators of junk science generally. In Professor Krugman's words, Alan Krueger's "main claim to fame" is his study and book advancing the argument that increasing the price of labor (minimum wage) "modestly" does not reduce the demand for minimum wage employment. Economics Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker, for example, has noted that the methodology of the original study was "seriously flawed" (actually it was a textbook case of junk science) and Professor Krueger has been thoroughly discredited by Kevin Murphy, among others. But Professor Krueger wilfully refuses to abandon his position in that case - essentially restricting his responses to the weakest of his many critics' arguments.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Senator James Jeffords - Man of Principle!

I wonder what this will do to the book sales.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2002

FURTHER UPDATE: The Piper Bills Germany

The Wall Street Journal Europe has an excellent editorial calmly analyzing the cutting edge of Germany's current efforts to underme its own economy. Example:

Mr. Schroeder is going after one of the few havens of relative tax-freedom in tax-heavy Germany -- long-term capital gains. Monday's proposal would tax, at a 7.5% effective rate starting in February, the gains from sales of securities held for more than a year and property held more than 10 years. No one in Germany thinks this will stimulate the economy. But the government says it needs the money, so it's taking it any way it can. Apparently the idea that it's precisely in tough economic times that Germany's citizens can least afford new taxes was not much of a consideration.

Have economists studied whether it's possible to ski down a Laffer curve? Germany seems poised to find out.
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What Secret?

Various media, including Reuters, have been describing as a "secret court" the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which just overturned a decision of the separate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court,

The inferior Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court is properly described as a "secret court" - but there has been nothing secretive about the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, as the New York Times article on the matter makes clear:

Both the appeals court and the court whose opinion it overturned today were created solely to administer a 1978 law allowing the government to conduct intelligence wiretaps inside the United States. The three-member appeals court, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in issuing its first opinion ever, said that the lower court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, had erred when it tried to impose restrictions on the Justice Department. The Court of Review, which had never met before and essentially existed on paper, is made up of Judges Ralph B. Guy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Edward Leavy of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; and Laurence H. Silberman of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. All were appointed to the panel by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the Supreme Court. ... The only party was the Justice Department, which won; the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who filed briefs, were afforded only friend-of-the-court status, which does not entitle them to appeal.

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Monday, November 18, 2002

Why Day Lilies Bloom at Every Gas Station

It changes your life!

Good looking in the flower border ... and they make really good soups (a daylily cream soup is also delicious) and other tasty foods. They're good with pork.
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UPDATE: Easing In The Back Door

The MinuteMan also wonders at Big Mo's self imposed exile. Is she a hostage? Has some Saudi prince added her to his harem? Ready the Delta Force! This may be a case for Die Entführung aus dem Serail!

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Lights On, Nobody Home?

One not uncommon but precarious and usually counterproductive gambit of elected officers is attempting to quiet criticism by arguing that critics are obliged to restrain themselves because the politician is occupying an office that deserves more respect. The crudest and almost always unsuccessful version of this gambit tries to quiet protests occurring at the politician's government office space - or, in this case, Al Gore's official Vice Presidential residence:

WALTERS: I'm not sure that people realize that while you were in the residence of the Vice President [during the Florida recount] there were crowds of people outside screaming at you. What was that all about?

AL GORE: Well, this was the Republican response to what was happening during that 36-day period, and they organized busloads of people that came and stood outside the house all day and all night screaming at the top of their lungs.

WALTERS: What, "Get out!"?

TIPPER GORE: Things like that, yes, and, and sometimes … things that we don't want to say on your program, and, some people saw that they were buses from "churches," but it was organized. The one thing that, that they did mainly was reach the bedrooms of our children, and Albert was still in school locally, and trying to study, so we rearranged, you know, they … kids moved to a different part of the house, and I was trying to think of a way that we could kind of laugh about this since obviously it was out of our control, there wasn't anything anybody could do so I got all the boom boxes in the house and … I remember sort of what the government did with Noriega … I thought we'd try that, and I aimed them at, toward, you know, where the crowd …

WALTERS: The crowd?

TIPPER GORE: … And I put nature sounds on and turned it all the way up. And at least the kids laughed.

AL GORE: There were a few, more than a few who supported us and were offended by the organized chanting round the clock who came out on the other street corner during the day to express their support with signs, and … You know, emotions were running high throughout the country and it was just an unprecedented time.

KARENNA GORE: Well, when we were in the Vice President's house during the recount, it was it was very intense. And one of the things I remember is that there was a … an organized effort by, I don't know whether it was the RNC or it was … it was right-wing groups, it was definitely Bush-campaign-oriented effort to bus in people to have a sort of siege at the Vice President's house, and, so, they were all lining there, screaming, and it was kind of an assortment of groups. I mean, some of them were anti, um, were anti-abortion groups, and some of them were pro-gun groups, and some of them … they all had their different signs. But they were all screaming, "Get out of Cheney's house," the whole time. And I just remember being there next to my dad, because I went for a run, and I ran back through them, and I was very upset when I came into the house. And my whole attitude was, like, "We've got to fight back harder. And where are our crowds?" And my dad, I'll never forget his response. He said, "We have to do what's best for the country, and it is not good for the country to have this kind of divisiveness. And he was on the phone, really calling off the dogs. There were people who wanted to fan the … the flames of the racial issue and have real unrest. And he was on the phone asking them not to, because of what was best for the country not because of what was best for him politically. And that's really who he is.

WALTERS: Do you remember the crowds outside screaming?

KRISTEN GORE: The crowds that were screaming outside our house, you know, "Get out of Cheney's house." And other things … of that nature, were really upsetting. It was difficult … It was just very … upsetting that someone would … yell those things at us. It felt … we felt sort of like … trapped in this … you know, little house with all these people yelling mean things. It's no fun. You know, whether you're a child of the person who they're directed at, or anyone else. It … it wasn't a good situation.

WALTERS: Were you scared?

KRISTEN GORE: I was scared that the truth was not going to come out. That's what I was.

Can Al Gore and his family understand that this interview makes him out as a priggish, gutless wonder? What would one think of a President who complained that protesters rudely chanted outside the White House? There are often protestors outside the White House - and they try to be loud and forceful and rude. It's Washington, D.C. - not Versailles. Nobody pays much attention - and the President certainly never makes priggish comments about the protesters' style - unless they are extraordinarily raucous. In Mr. Gore's case, the protests were so peaceful that Karenna Gore says "I went for a run, and I ran back through them, and I was very upset when I came into the house." Does the Secret Service let the Vice President's daughter run through protesters who are really acting up or creating any potential threat at all? I don't think so.

Oddly, Mr. Gore seems to have thought this interview put him in a flattering light by allowing him and his family to present his critics as near-thugs willing to desecrate the sacred Vice Presidential residence, which is set in an enclosed, guarded, gated park.
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Gee, I Thought I Had One Of Those Things Around Here Somewhere

What the North Koreans really said was that they have nucular weapons - which, as we all know, don't exist because the word is spelled and pronounced "nuclear." That Korean accent made it a little had to tell.

Or at least that's what the North Koreans told the Clinton Administration when they cut their deal.
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The Souring

Bruce Sanborn addresses the souring of Garrison Keillor and Leftist humor.
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Thought Provocation From Hogberg

At the American Prowler today.

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Still In The Denial Phase

Excerpts of Senate Democrats addressing the election results and what is to be done, from an article in today's Roll Call:

"It is not so much changing the message," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). "It is just that people in America haven't been hearing what we argue all the time."

"The conservative establishment in this country really has a lock on the airwaves," said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the assistant Democratic floor leader.

"I don't have any inside info on what is going to happen...," [Hillary] Clinton said.

A top Democratic aide said Democrats lost out in this year's election because Republicans successfully co-opted portions of their domestic agenda while at the same time seizing control of the national security debate over issues such as creating a Department of Homeland Security. "Republicans did a masterful job of blurring the differences on key Democratic initiatives such as education, health care and the war on terrorism," the aide said.

So the Senate Democrats think their party lost the last election because: (1) The Republicans coopted the Democrats' agenda and, then, through the conservative establishment's "lock on the airwaves," presented that "coopted agenda" to a guileless voting public while (2) The people in America just weren't hearing what the Democrats "argue all the time" because the Democrats - lacking media support and sympathy - just couldn't get their genuine agenda out. And even though the differences between Republican and Democratic initiatives were all blurred up, the voters consistently chose the Republican version over and over again.

And, of course, Hillary Clinton, who with her husband runs the DNC through Terry McAuliffe, doesn't "have any inside info on what is going to happen."

Sad. Really sad.
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UPDATE: The Piper Bills Germany

Germans unwisely re-elected their paralytic government, one singularly unsuitable for addressing the country's pressing and growing internal and external needs. As noted here previously, the bills for their self-indulgence are starting to come due.

Now the Economist is taking note of the swelling mess. Chancellor Schroeder's approach both to internal reform issues and foreign policy issues has been heavy on opportunism and media manipulation, and light on real ideas, insight and reform, and that has made his and Germany's problems worse than they need to be.

But to be fair to the Chancellor, Germany is a self governing Democracy, and its voters aren't getting anything they didn't choose for themselves. If Economist means to join with the German opposition by insinuating that Herr Schroeder obtained reelection by misleading the voters, that insinuation is a disservice to the Economist's readers, as with this passage:

Right up to the general election, Mr Schröder's then government had assured voters that it had everything under control. Times were certainly difficult, it said, but it was still expecting modest growth of 0.75% this year, rising to 2.5% next year. Tax increases? No question of that: to do it during an economic downturn would be “economically absurd”, Mr Schröder insisted. Welfare contributions? They would be “stabilised”. And the public deficit? Hans Eichel, the finance minister, was “certain” that Germany would keep within the European Union's 3% limit. All that has now been turned on its head.

The government no longer expects the economy to grow by more than 0.5% this year and 1.5% next. And even that looks optimistic. Germany's “five wise men”, the government's independent economic advisers, now forecast growth of just 0.2% this year and 1.0% next. The ZEW institute's monthly index of business expectations plunged this month to its lowest level since just after the terrorist attacks on New York's twin towers, suggesting, according to the institute's president, Wolfgang Franz, a “nosedive” of economic activity in Germany in the first half of next year. Europe's biggest economy is in crisis. .... Many Germans feel cheated and betrayed. Support for Mr. Schröder's Social Democrats has plummeted. Less than two months after scraping back into power, they now trail the opposition Christian Democrats by 14 percentage points.

All very rich.

During the campaign many independent economists, as well as the opposition political parties, vigorously pointed out how precarious the government's economic predictions really were. Germany's structural problems are discussed constantly and with great sophistication in that country's media. So while it is true as the Economist reports that [o]pposition leaders accuse the government of carrying out “the biggest electoral fraud in German history," it is equally true that voters who relied on the government's inevitably sunny campaign forecasts chose to rely on those forecasts in the face of enormous countervailing authority that was adequately explained to them.

Democracy requires, among other things, that voters train themselves to understand that an incumbent government will try to put the best spin on its performance, and that while the government is not evil to do this, the voters have an obligation to be skeptical and listen seriously to the other stories. Indeed, Herr Schroeder's party was trailing badly in the polls at the time it was attempting to rely on this sunny message - meaning voters weren't buying it. It was only with his handling of the massive floods and his opposition to the US Iraq policy that Herr Schroder made up his ground. It is preposterous and irresponsible for Germans to now argue that they were "tricked" by this entirely normal aspect of Herr Schroeder's campaign. The Germans weren't "tricked" or "defrauded." Rather, fully apprised, German voters chose to focus on the wrong issues at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Now they are living with the consequences.

The Germans are their own problem. Germans' need to shed their own responsibility for their own choices by arguing they were misled where they were provided with all of the relevant information is a big part of their problem. It is certainly not the first time its been their problem.

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Sunday, November 17, 2002

This Means ...

... New England media won't run so many "global warming" items for a while.
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A Mere Being

There are several remarkable passages in this profile of Al Gore from the Washington Post. Mistaken for Dan Quayle in an airport, revealed as a college stand up comic, described as taking "a part-time job with Metropolitan West, a financial services firm, as a roving rainmaker" without comment on whether he has made any rain for the substantial amount of compensation he is reported to receive - and, if so, where it came from. There's the new White Housey home - his hoped for jar - in a tony Nashville suburb

Some consequences from his earlier compromises are described: hiving off principles, replacing them with Bill Clinton's artifices of political manipulation in the service of personal self indulgence - with Monica Lewinski swaying, the palm at the end of the mind. Angry words post election defeat. Dear me.

There is discussion of the 2000 campaign, but it seems historical, remote - like reports from the Indian Wars. Friends and former aides speak, but their comments have the quality of reports in those worthy academic projects whose purpose is to reach and record aged witnesses before they all die off: "A downright fire-eater, and no mistake. Showed that, I should say, to some purpose, in the late tremendous swamp-fight, away down South ...."

But perhaps the most striking aspect of this profile is the sheer overwhelming exhaustion it finds in the man that was used up.

Thanks to reader Mike Daley.

UPDATE: More Gore exhaustion:

Gore is on the offensive. Bush's economic agenda, he says, is "catastrophic," his foreign policy "horrible," his environmental stance "immoral." "Our country is headed for very deep trouble," he says. He diplomatically refrains from saying if there is a "national malaise."

TIME says: This is the New Gore, a man who no longer speaks as if every sentence has been preapproved by his pollsters and handlers.

Sometimes it's better to have pollsters and handlers. TIME also reports: [I]f Gore ran today against Bush, the poll shows, Bush would win handily, 57% to 40%. - which is about the margin by which Jeb Bush just carried Florida.

FURTHER UPDATE: Bill Quick finds more Gore howlers.
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Against The Misguided

Critics of the United States spend a disproportionate amount of their time and effort attempting to cast one aspect or another of the nation's history in an unflattering light.

But those who formed it well understood that the very legitimacy of this nation tetered precariously over its tolerance of slavery, and they formed it anyway. And Abraham Lincoln, a political genius of the highest order, who brought the deeply flawed nation through a Civil War that transfigured it yet left it with the same principles, Constitution, government and founding heros, also realized that a thing is worth fighting for not because of what it is or has been, but for what can be made of it:

I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father's child has. It is in order that each one of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright. ... That nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.

- Address to the 16th Ohio Regiment, August 22, 1864

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