Jasper Smith

Commentary on politics, economics, culture and sports.


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1) I’m officially resigning from the Caroline Kennedy Defense League until/unless she completes a public speaking course. In her case the apple didn’t just fall far from the tree, the freaking orchard was on a different continent.

2) Byonce’s hit “If I were a Boy” sucks. Her people have badly misused her voice on this one. It sounds like she’s straining. IMO she doesn’t have the booming, bell-like voice of a Whitney Houston, Maria Carey, Leona Lewis or Rihanna. Which is fine. Byonce’s voice is perfectly decent, and even sweet — in a  Diana Ross kind of way. She just doesn’t have the cords for the aforementioned song.

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December 31, 2008 at 5:40 pm

A Senator Supports Neo-Hooverism

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Kevin Drum (quoting Tim Fernholz) reports that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is worried about protecting the taxpayers from the new administration’s plans to right the economy:

A trillion-dollar spending bill would be the largest spending bill in the history of our country at a time when our national debt is already the largest in history,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. “As a result, it will require tough scrutiny and oversight. Taxpayers, already stretched to the limit, deserve nothing less.

It goes without saying that among other deceptions McConnell is well-aware he’s using is misleading language with respect to the country’s debt. Yes, it is true that if you count money owed to future retirees national debt is quite high, but the more relevant public debt figure is about the same percentage of GDP as it was at the beginning of WWII (you know, the same war that, as Krugman puts it, finally provided a stimulus large enough to get the country out of Depression once and for all).

This is not an argument against getting our fiscal house in order to deal with entitlements, by the way — it’s something we need to do (most pressingly, healthcare reform, as Social Security’s problems are easily repairable) after we’ve restored the economy to health. It’s just an argument against letting ideologues like McConnell demagogue the country into a repeat of the 1930s

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December 30, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Miscellania

Ms. Plausibility or, In Which Jasper Officially Becomes a Caroline Kennedy Suckup

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Anti-Caroline hysteria sentiment in the ‘sphere seems to be intensifying, and I’ll have none of it, dammit!

Okay, seriously, I’m not saying Ms. Kennedy is the best candidate for the job, mind you; but she’s obviously a plausible candidate in a narrow universe of plausible candidates. People continue to talk about her like she’s some kind of grossly underqualified airhead — but that’s seems like wild exaggeration colored by Kennedy bashing. She doesn’t have experience running in and winning elections*, but that’s the only thing she lacks from what I can see**. She’s got money, fame, looks, glamor,*** sterling education credentials (Harvard and Columbia Law), she’s a life long New Yorker, she’s prominent in Democratic party circles (vetted Obama’s VP choices and was a co-chair of his campaign, I think), she possesses a strong relationship with the president-elect, she has a pretty impressive rolodex, she’s a respected constitutional scholar, she writes well, and she’s done substantive, meaningful work in policy analysis, non-profit fundraising and governance, arts advocacy, and education. She’s seems to be a very straight arrow (nice family, etc.), and likely has fewer skeletons in her closet than the various elected public officials who would also be plausible candidates for the appointment. And, as Democrats who actually want to win elections (unlike libertarians who understandably would rather see us lose) realize, Caroline Kennedy is almost certainly likely to prove an unsurpassed fundraiser in 2010 — a year when coaxing money from contributors may not be an easy task. Again, she may not be the optimal candidate from the perspective of background and experience (Spitzer’s downfall makes the scene devoid of an obvious concensus choice), but politically — and this is ultimately how such things get decided — she’s very plausible indeed.

*I frankly think this is a weak argument with respect to this particular candidate. I mean, she freaking grew up in the White House, and her uncles were Bobby and Teddy. I have a feeling she knows how the government works, and how legislation gets enacted. Moreover, while personal legislative experience is obviously a plus, Hillary Clinton has shown lack of it isn’t a deal-breaker. And anyway, what’s wrong with having someone with a different perspective sitting in the great deliberative body? Heaven forbid someone other than, you know, a career briber of voters, be sent to Washington to join Schumer.

**Well, she may lack natural political instincts/communication skills based on her upstate tour. It definitely wasn’t an auspicious start. I personally think it’s too early to tell — and I very much doubt Patterson will write her off based on one or two initial missteps (Hillary wasn’t a natural from the getgo either) but Caroline certainly needs to improve in this area.

***I can almost hear the sneering now, but y’all have to take off your good citizens caps and put on your political consultants caps: you can certainly make the case that Kennedy possesses many of the practical attributes — especially in an era when fundraising is likely to get tougher — especially with a mid-term coming up where Democrats are likely to be facing stiff challenges — of someone who can beat King or Rudy (and help other Democrats — most importantly Patterson himself — in the bargain). Cynical or not, that, my dear friends, will surely be of paramount concern in Patterson’s mind.

Finally, one word about the hand-wringing over political dynasties: our constitution got rid of royalty. It doesn’t say people who grew up with backgrounds in politics and affairs of state can’t or shouldn’t be able to run themselves. It seems to me you’ll have to change human nature to insure that. Bottom line is voters have brains, and in a democracy they’re perfectly free to reject princelings, and often do. Neither Romney nor Hillary Clinton is about to enter the White House. George H.W. Bush couldn’t retain it in 1992. The Republic has always known families prominent in public affairs, and always will. John Quincy Adams’s foray into politics didn’t sink us, and neither will Caroline Kennedy’s.

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December 23, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Miscellania

Madoff as outlier

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A thought on Madoff: I’ve heard a lot of people make the claim that his malfeasance should have been discovered because of his unrealistic returns. But hasn’t Warren Buffett also enjoyed long strings of years when his portfolio made year after year of double digit returns? I’m aware Berkshire is public, so you just have to look up the components he owns to know it’s all legit, but my guess is Madoff’s fund’s “performance” didn’t look all that implausible, given the multi-year success we occasionally see from Wall Street’s brighter lights (Peter Lynch comes to mind as well). Obviously what the SEC should have done was to require Madoff to show in detail exactly how such returns were earned. Apparently they didn’t.

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December 20, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Miscellania

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Thoughts on Caroline

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For the most part the controversy surrounding Caroline Kennedy’s intention to pursue a senate seat is entirely understandable; “less is more” are not words one often associates with the democratic process here in the US. I myself — a fan of that mob rule form of government known as the parliamentary system — am disquieted at the prospect of the executive making appointments to the national legislature. So,  if you’re opposed to the method whereby vacant offices are sometimes appointed rather than filled by special election, then more power to you — and good luck — you’re free to lobby your fellow citizens to get the law changed.  There is something decidedly unfair about being chosen by a governor — rather than directly by the voters — for a seat in the United States Senate

But as long as NY’s constitution requires that a vacancy be filled short-term in this manner, then anybody who is appointed is going to be getting an “unfair” (by this line of reasoning) advantage. Again, I understand the perception of unfairness surrounding the appointment process as such as opposed to holding a special election. But the vitriol from the left focusing specifically on senatorial aspirant Caroline Kennedy qua Caroline Kennedy is a bit much.

Now, if your point is that Kennedy’s name is a really unfair advantage (ie., she’s some type of royalty) then what you’re really arguing is that someone should be passed over because of something one has no control over. And this is what seems fundamentally unfair to me, because at the end of the day, the woman has no more power over the circumstances of her birth than any other human being. Barring her from office because of her high birth seems fundamentally unfair and illiberal.

One can legitimately make the argument, of course, that Kennedy is unqualified, or that she’s not the best qualified candidate – and again, fair enough. But I haven’t read much in the way of substantive arguments in this regard. I’d like to know why a long career serving the greater good in the arts, say, or in education reform, is automatically an inferior background for the senate than a long career as an electeed public official. It seems to me both backgrounds have their merits, and it is not at all obvious to me which is superior.

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December 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Miscellania

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The inanity of Amity

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Amity Shlaes — writing with a chip on her shoulder apparently acquired because of criticisms made by a certain Nobel-winning economist who knows more about the dismal science than she’ll ever forget — makes a fool of herself with a piece she subtitles “Massive Government Spending is No Solution to Unemployment.”

Paul Krugman of the New York Times has been on the attack lately in regard to the New Deal. His new book “The Return of Depression Economics,” emphasizes the importance of New Deal-style spending. He has said the trouble with the New Deal was that it didn’t spend enough.

He’s also arguing that some writers and economists have been misrepresenting the 1930s to make the effect of FDR’s overall policy look worse than it was. I’m interested in part because Mr. Krugman has mentioned me by name. He recently said that I am the one “whose misleading statistics have been widely disseminated on the right.”

Mr. Krugman is a new Nobel Laureate, teaches at Princeton University and writes a column for a nationally prominent newspaper. So what he says is believed to be objective by many people, even when it isn’t. But the larger reason we should care about the 1930s employment record is that the cure Roosevelt offered, the New Deal, is on everyone else’s mind as well. In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, President-elect Barack Obama said, “keep in mind that 1932, 1933, the unemployment rate was 25%, inching up to 30%.”

The New Deal is Mr. Obama’s context for the giant infrastructure plan his new team is developing. If he proposes FDR-style recovery programs, then it is useful to establish whether those original programs actually brought recovery. The answer is, they didn’t. New Deal spending provided jobs but did not get the country back to where it was before.

The very subtitle of Ms. Shlaes’s piece gives away the inanity (or disingenuousness) of her piece, because “massive government spending” is exactly what finally enabled America to return to prosperity after the ravages of the 1930s. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt responded to the critics parroting the conventional wisdom of his day (sound familiar Ms. Shlaes?) by becoming a deficit hawk after his first term. Thus during FDR’s second term the federal deficit declined precipitously via tax hikes and budget curbs — in fiscal 1938 the government was very nearly in (PDF warning) surplus — and lo and behold the economic growth of his first term promptly evaporated and the depression entered a temporary period of intensification. It was not until after Pearl Harbor — when deficit spending by Washington skyrocketed (it reached over 30% of GDP in 1943) that the country finally made a permanent break with depression.

Now, I don’t think Mr. Obama or anybody else is suggesting borrowing on quite so massive a scale. I suspect deficit spending will likely peak somewhere north of 10% of GDP over the next year or two. But if we’re to heed the lessons of FDR’s day our course is clear: a massive stimulus plan along the lines of what Krugman and others are proposing is our best insurance against depression. An absurd emphasis on fiscal rectitude during times like these is surely a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, it appears the new team taking charge in Washington has read its history books.

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November 29, 2008 at 1:45 pm

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Bailing out Detroit

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I’ve pretty much come around to the idea that doing something with taxpayer money now is better than doing nothing when it comes to the Big Three. Again, if we weren’t coasting along (or headed toward) the bottom of a vicious recession at the present moment, I’d no doubt stick with my free market instincts. But letting them slip into Chapter 7 right now strikes me as very high stakes poker. Yglesias, needless to say, is having none of it:

Part of what makes the auto bailout conversation difficult to have realistically is that this $25 billion number is hanging out there. That’s a lot of money, yes, but it’s actually a relatively small amount of money relative to the scale of the Big Three’s operations. Under the circumstances, a bailout looks a bit like a good deal.

But by the same token, I don’t see any reason to think that $25 billion would actually turn these firms around or even forestall collapse for very long. The car industry in general is in a big slump, and these companies in particular have been on a downward trajectory for a long time.

So what if they money doesn’t stave off collapse “for very long?” If it buys us only ten months it may be worth it. If it ultimately costs $75 billion (probably something under 2% of what Keynesian measures are ultimately going to cost the government over the next few years) but buys us three years, I think it will definitely be worth it. Letting all of the big three go under precipitously at the present time is extremely risky. Sure, maybe the economy would make the adjustments to post-big three life smoothly, but I’d rather not tempt fate. Nobody’s arguing we shouldn’t structure the best deal possible — one that is optimal with respect to the national interest (and that unfortunately means a lot fewer automobile-related rust belt jobs).

Handing out a million and a half pink slips in gradual fashion over the next, say, four years (even if this costs the taxpayers a lot of money), is a safer course of action than handing out two million over the next twelve months. It may be a cheaper (for us taxpayers) course of action, too, although our lack of easily observable parallel universes will make it impossible to prove either way.

I think this is basically our choice.

Written by Jasper

November 18, 2008 at 8:56 pm