Saturday, January 23, 2021

Krugman-Klein Theory and the Tasks of the Biden Administration

Kaluza-Klein theory is, as you know, a classical unified field theory of gravitation and electromagnetism built around the idea of a fifth dimension beyond the usual four of space and time and considered an important precursor to string theory. This won't do the Biden administration much good but what I am dubbing Krugman-Klein theory just might. And there's no fancy mathematics, just some simple principles! (Note: Krugman and Klein aren't the only ones to have thought of these ideas but they both are very well-known and express the principles exceptionally clearly. Plus it sounds cool.)
Krugman lays out four rules for economic policy-making that should guide the administration:
"Rule #1: Don’t doubt the power of government to help. The last time Democrats took the White House, they were still in something of a reflexive cringe, halfway accepting the conservative dogma that government always does more harm than good. But everything that has happened since 2009 says that government spending can be hugely beneficial....
Rule #2: Don’t obsess about debt. Constant warnings about the dangers of government borrowing hobbled the Obama agenda almost from the start. Biden shouldn’t let that happen again....
Rule #3: Don’t worry about inflation. Constant warnings about soaring prices, combined with false claims that the government was hiding the true rate of inflation (no, this sort of thing didn’t begin with Trump) also marked the Obama years; but inflation never took off. Nonetheless, the usual suspects are ramping up to try it again....
Rule #4: Don’t count on Republicans to help govern. The original sin of Obama economic policy was the underpowered stimulus of 2009. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helped stabilize the economy, but it was much too small given the depths of the crisis. This isn’t hindsight; some of us were very publicly tearing our hair out in real time.
One reason the plan was too small was that Obama was trying to gain bipartisan support, rather than using reconciliation to push it through with Democratic votes."
And Klein points out the absolute centrality of moving fast to provide positive change that voters can see, feel and give government credit for.
"President Biden takes office with a ticking clock. The Democrats’ margin in the House and Senate couldn’t be thinner, and midterms typically raze the governing party. That gives Democrats two years to govern. Two years to prove that the American political system can work. Two years to show Trumpism was an experiment that need not be repeated....
This is the responsibility the Democratic majority must bear: If they fail or falter, they will open the door for Trumpism or something like it to return, and there is every reason to believe it will be far worse next time....
Among the many tributaries flowing into Trumpism, one in particular has gone dangerously overlooked. In their book “Presidents, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy,” the political scientists William Howell and Terry Moe write that “populists don’t just feed on socioeconomic discontent. They feed on ineffective government — and their great appeal is that they claim to replace it with a government that is effective through their own autocratic power.”
Donald Trump was this kind of populist. Democrats mocked his “I alone can fix it” message for its braggadocio and feared its authoritarianism, but they did not take seriously the deep soil in which it was rooted: The American system of governance is leaving too many Americans to despair and misery, too many problems unsolved, too many people disillusioned. It is captured by corporations and paralyzed by archaic rules. It is failing, and too many Democrats treat its failures as regrettable inevitabilities rather than a true crisis.
But now Democrats have another chance. To avoid the mistakes of the past, three principles should guide their efforts. First, they need to help people fast and visibly. Second, they need to take politics seriously, recognizing that defeat in 2022 will result in catastrophe. The Trumpist Republican Party needs to be politically discredited through repeated losses; it cannot simply be allowed to ride back to primacy on the coattails of Democratic failure. And, finally, they need to do more than talk about the importance of democracy. They need to deepen American democracy....
In her book “Good Enough for Government Work,” [Amy] Lerman argues that the U.S. government is caught in a reputation crisis where its poor performance is assumed, the public is attuned to its flaws and misses its virtues, and fed-up citizens stop using public services, which further harms the quality of those services. The Trump years add another dimension to the analysis: Frustration with a government that doesn’t solve problems leads people to vote for demagogic outsiders who create further crises. But this is not an inevitability. Her titular phrase, she notes, “originated during World War II to describe the exacting standards and high quality required by government.” It was only in the 1960s and ’70s that it became a slur.
It is no accident that World War II led to the idea that government work was a standard to strive for, not an outcome to fear. Crises remind us of what government is for in the first place. Biden has an extraordinary opportunity to change the relationship between the people and their government. If he succeeds, he will not only deprive authoritarian populists like Trump of energy, he will give Democrats a chance to win over voters who’ve lost faith in them, and he will give voice to millions more that the American political system has silenced. “The best thing we can do right now to reduce levels of anger and frustration on both sides of the aisle is to give people the things they need to live better lives,” said Lerman.
In other words, what Democrats need to do is simple: Just help people, and do it fast."
So there you have it: Krugman-Klein theory. The Biden administration needs to zealously apply this theory and not worry about much else. Indeed, whatever other plans they have are pretty much dependent on getting these Krugman-Klein big things right, restoring faith in effective governance and avoiding a wipe out in 2022. As Klein notes, the clock is ticking.

Yes Indeed, The US Minimum Wage Is a Disgrace

For a good defense of the $15 minimum wage, that looks fairly at the various counterarguments, see Matt Yglesias' piece. Whether the minimum wage increase can get through budget reconciliation at this point is another question. But it's still a good idea!
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Casey Cho, Dan Moren and 2 others

Friday, January 22, 2021

No, All His Supporters Are Not Sticking with Trump

Pew has solid data on this. Yes we wish everyone would bail out on our disgraced ex-President but that's not gonna happen in our world of negative partisanship and rampant conspiracy theories. The crazies in particular and not going to suddenly de-crazy. But that should not blind us to the fact that Trump is, in fact, losing support and that the GOP is in a world of hurt. This presents an important opportunity for Biden and the Democrats that I shall comment more on presently.
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Does the Center-Left Have Some Responsibility for Building National Unity?

I'd say yes, though it also fair to say that the center-right has the most responsibility for disciplining their own ranks and rooting out the crazy. But that does not absolve the center-left of significant responsibility to help move the country in the direction advocated by President Biden.
My colleague Peter Juul makes a strong case for this at The Liberal Patriot (subscribe--unlike most Substacks, all the content is free!)
"In his inaugural address, President Joe Biden made a strong plea for national unity after more than four years of division deliberately fostered by his predecessor. It’s easy – and sorely tempting – for Democrats and progressives to point their fingers solely and exclusively at conservatives and Republicans, especially when the right bears the lion’s share of responsibility and then some for the deterioration of our national politics. There’s no denying the reality that true national unity won’t be possible until the center-right cleans up its own act.
All the same, those of us on the broad center-left ought to be willing if not eager to do our part to lower the nation’s political temperature. It’s up to conservatives to regulate their own side of the political aisle, but that does not absolve liberal patriots from their own responsibilities to do the same. Leaving the matter wholly up to conservatives gives them a veto on the subject of national unity, one many on the right are already trying to use. If we’re serious about national unity along the lines put forward by President Biden, it’s incumbent upon us to act like it. To paraphrase the ancient Roman philosopher Epictetus, liberal patriots need to remember what’s under our own control and acknowledge what’s not. In the process, we may find that the center-left can expand the ranks of the “enough of us” and build the political coalitions necessary to make real progress."
Read the whole article, with some do's and don'ts for the center-left, at The Liberal Patriot!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Turnout and the 2020 Election

It'll be awhile before we have demographic turnout data for the 2020 election--and therefore comparisons to 2016--that I will feel I can really trust. But embedded in a slide show and report available for the Voter Participation Research Center (VPC) are some interesting turnout data produced by using AP/NORC VoteCast 2020 + Pew 2016 + Census/CPS eligible voter data + official vote counts. I'd say these are pretty good for the time being and as good or better than other estimates that are floating around.
The VPC data were produced to inform their ongoing efforts to tout the "Rising American Electorate" (RAE) which they define as nonwhites + Millennials/Gen Z + unmarried women (with double counting due to overlapping categories eliminated). The analysis is a bit skewed to accentuate positive connections to their campaign which leads them to underplay a few of their findings.
One is that while RAE turnout did indeed go up (+6), it went up considerably less than it did among the non-RAE (+11). Because of this relative decline in turnout, RAE growth in voter share lagged growth in eligible voter share. While they do not provide a specific turnout figure for nonwhites, it is notable that they estimate nonwhite voter share was flat across the two elections at 26 percent, despite a 2 point increase in nonwhite eligible voter share. And they estimate black voter share actually declined from 12 to 11 percent, presumably not because absolute black turnout declined from 2016 but rather that it went significantly less than among other groups.
Much food for thought in their report and slide deck, though I would be wary of some of the interpretations, particularly around contributions to Democratic margin which are lacking a comparison to 2016. That said, this is still interesting data to sift through while we wait for better stuff to come in.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Biden and the Promise of America

It's a new dawn, it's a new day and the editors at The Liberal Patriot consider what it all means, especially in light of Biden's fine inaugural speech. Brian Katulis covers a new economic foundation, Peter Juul considers a new internationalism, John Halpin outlines a new social contract and finally I assess a new politics that may be aborning.
"President Joseph R. Biden, in a necessary and heartfelt call for national unity in his inaugural address, gave all Americans his personal commitment to lead the country with honesty, integrity, and truthfulness and to always level with them through the difficult process of collectively confronting the challenges of our time: the pandemic, economic depression, the climate crisis, ongoing inequalities, and the assault on democracy.
Turning the page on the destructive and divisive Trump years, President Biden laid out a vision of America that “will not fail” if it acts together to build a more perfect union. Although the address centered mainly on his personal bonds with the country, the new president described the basic structures of what he wants a newly united country to achieve, at both the personal and societal levels.
He said: "Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this. Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause.
Uniting to fight the foes we face: anger, resentment and hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness and hopelessness. With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs. We can put people to work in good jobs. We can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus. We can reward work and rebuild the middle class and make healthcare secure for all. We can deliver racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world."
Looking forward, TLP’s co-editors examine the core components of national policy and politics that should drive the Biden administration’s efforts to renew America’s promise."
Please click through to read it all at The Liberal Patriot!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

As We Exit the Trump Era....What Do the American People Want?

Well, pretty much what you'd expect, though there are some interesting differences between a new survey (AP/NORC) which asked what problems respondents would like to see the government working on in 2021 (up to 5 responses accepted; open-ended) and another new survey (Morning Consult) which asked for respondents' top priority for Biden to accomplish during his first term (open-ended). For example, climate and social issues are way down the list as a top priority in the Morning Consult poll but do better in AP/NORC as one of a number of problems government should attend to in 2021.
That said, it certainly appears that, above all, people want action on the economy and COVID. To the incoming administration's credit, it does seem like they get this. Hopefully, a new era is dawning. We shall see.