Friday, January 04, 2002

PAUL KRUGMAN DOESN'T GET IT. At least, not in today's New York Times column, in which he is reduced to making wild guesses:

You might have expected the concentration of income at the top to provoke populist demands to soak the rich ... Indeed, the Republicans have moved so far to the right that ordinary voters have trouble taking it in; as I pointed out in an earlier column, focus groups literally refused to believe accurate descriptions of the stimulus bill that House Republican leaders passed on a party-line vote back in October.

Why has the response to rising inequality been a drive to reduce taxes on the rich? Good question. It's not a simple matter of rich people voting themselves a better deal: there just aren't enough of them. To understand political trends in the United States we probably need to think about campaign finance, lobbying, and the general power of money to shape political debate.

Yeah, we might think about campaign finance, lobbying, and the power of money if we were looking for a remedy for insomnia. But seriously, Krugman really doesn't get it. And I say this despite having a good deal more sympathy for Krugman's McCain-like "plain talk" sensibilities than folks like Instapundit and the rest of the right-leaning bloggista community.

Krugman is right when he makes the point -- over and over again -- that a great deal of the Bush tax plan is based on, not fuzzy math, but imaginary numbers, and that no one should buy into Republican rhetoric at face value. But are we to believe that so many American voters are such morons that (for practical, statistical purposes) fully half of them pushed the lever (or punched the chad) for Bush because they bought the lies?

Give us some credit, Paul. Most low- and middle-income people don't intend to stay that way. Most of the bottom 99% income-earners dream of one day becoming a member of that top 1%. Most of them never will achieve that dream. But surely that's what the American Dream is all about -- the right to work very hard to improve one's (or one's children's) lot in life

And when we finally get there, we want to know that it was worth the trouble. There would be far less incentive to work that hard for 40 productive years or longer if we know the fruits of our labor will only be taxed away in the end!

Granted, this somewhat oversimplifies the equation. Some people would work hard anyway because they have a strong cultural work ethic or are driven from within, and some people truly are morons who voted the straight Republican ticket because they liked the sound of Bush's feel-good promises that couldn't possibly be kept.

(And in making the counter-argument, Gore had an nigh impossible task: While Bush could promise deficit reduction, social security privatization, drug benefits for seniors, and a rainy-day slush fund all in one breath, most people's eyes would glaze over by the time Gore finished explaining why this was mathematically impossible.)

None of which is to say that the Republican tax cuts make one whit of fiscal sense. They don't. But as a percentage of our overall economy, they hardly matter -- and besides, they can always be repealed if there is sufficient political will.

But more to the point: If the Republican tax cuts were a consequence of the corrupting influence of campaign contributions, surely Enron would have gotten a far better bail-out deal than the airlines!

No, Mr. Krugman. The dynamic here -- the reason that so many low-income earners support lower taxes for high-income earners -- boils down to the power of capitalism, human nature and the corrupting influence of the American Dream.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

BREAKING NEWS: WE'RE OFFICIALLY BACK TO NORMAL! Sharks have resumed their coordinated attacks against American citizens on -- er, just slightly off -- American soil.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

MORE MAILBAG: My thanks to everyone who keeps popping by, looking for new content this week and last, but I'm afraid I've done something to goof up my primary computer's device drivers -- and my backups predate the installation for my current DSL service provider -- so my broadband connection is still problematic this week. (Going in through dial-up is the royal pits.) Hopefully, we'll be more-or-less back to normal in another day or two.

Meanwhile, reader and old CAPA-alpha buddy Bill Sherman remarks:

Enjoyed your self-examination piece in "Mind Over What Matters," but once again I find I can't resist taking issue with a part of it: your characterization of liberal dogma that's based on the assumption that all liberals favor strict gun control. As someone who lives in the farming Midwest - where hunting is a fact of life (made some venison lasagna myself this Thanksgiving - but don't worry: I'm not personally packing - too much of a klutz for that!) - I can attest to the fact that there are plenty of left-leaning types who are not so doctrinaire on the matter of gun possession. Characterizing all gun control advocates by claiming that their only agenda is to Ban The Guns is to indulge in the type of stereotypical spinwork that sites like Spinsanity exist to counter. (Thanks for linking me to that site, incidentally!) 

In this light, I also take issue with Kopel's futuristic fantasy piece: which indulges in the basic spin tactic of imagining an exaggerated situation (Does anybody realistically believe that we're gonna ban all firearms? Might as well try imagining, as Lennon also did, "no possessions" or "countries.") and then scoring ideological points from this Cloudcookooland. Are there sentimental liberals who believe that the world would be a better place if we banned all firearms (and "never more were to fire 'em," to slightly misquote XTC)? Undeniably. Are there fund-raisers who indulge in shoddy stats and Worst Case Scenarios to get money? Equally undeniable. But I think you'll find such practices as common to the NRA as its ideological opponents.

Me, I believe that guns can be as dangerous as cars - and it behooves a government that's concerned with the protection of its population to maintain some measure of control and overview of the use of both. Will this insure that no one will be injured as a result of the irresponsible or illegal use of either? Of course not. But it still makes intuitive sense to me to support some form of measured gun control - much as I support the traffic laws of the land.

As I've occasionally, obliquely mentioned on this page in the past, in real life I run a small graphic design and consulting business. One of my "most memorable" customers (to put it politiely) was Phil, a gruff old printing broker who personified the "old" in "old school." He had no patience for learning anything about the printing business if he could possibly avoid it, so he would constantly put me in the position of having to tell him that the things he was asking me to do were either ridiculous or, at least, ill-advised -- and usually, they were the same things, over and over again. As long as I kept solving the problem for him, it wasn't worth it to him to waste any energy on preventing it.

Not surprisingly, he was also the last of my regular clients to refuse to embrace the Internet -- and also, not surprisingly, his business was not resilient enough to survive the disruption and loss of revenue of 9/11. In all fairness, his printing brokerage business was heavily dependent on the econonmic health of the Financial District, and he did lose a couple of major clients on 9/11 -- and also, he was recovering from treatment for cancer, and was looking for an excuse to retire anyway. But toward the end, I had the opportunity to get a peek at his books -- briefly entertaining the possibility of doing some sort of merger or buy-out deal -- and it turned out that his business was never as large or robust as he had me believing all along. Mythmaking is a powerful tool, and I'm sure he used it to his great advantage for many years.

But all this is descriptive oversaturation to describe a personality that would be colorful regardless. What always especially struck about this gentleman was how he defied political labeling. Phil had served in Korea -- at least, so he said, and I have no reason to doubt it from the detail of his anecdotes. Certainly, he knew his way around firearms, and indeed, he did have a carry permit, and made use good of it. Probably, his favorite anecdote was of the time he'd caught some thug red-handed -- in the act of stealing the radio out of his van -- and made an armed citizen's arrest.

At the same time, he was an unrepentent traditional liberal in almost every other sense. Unlike many typical White Male New York liberals who only "walked the walk" as far as voting symbolically for David Dinkins in '88 (and then voting him out by a narrow margin in '92), Phil actually put his business on the line by hiring only minority women to his support staff -- and when he finally did sell the business, he was so loyal to has last remaining hire that the deal specifically required the new business owner to keep her on salary or find her a better job!

Point being, the old Archie Bunker-era labels have become quite irrelevant to the national discourse -- on any subject -- and have been so for many years. If the first clue came on the day when Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan jumped into bed on the subject of globalization, surely the pointlessness of this artificial chasm should have become self-evident when the Democrats became the party of deficit reduction and Republicans promised to spend the same two trillion dollars on both social security privatization and new health care benefits.

Which is why I continue to say that the public debate is vastly, horribly served by those in the Dowd/O'Reilly/Limbaugh mainstream media who take such delight in framing every argument as an us-against-them / liberal-vs.-conservative conflict. That may be the easy way to fill column inches or air time, but it offers nothing of value to public policy decision-making.

But as I am, at the moment, on deadline, and I must free up this terminal for other purposes, I'll have to wrap up for now with a nonconclusive "More to come..."