Friday, July 22, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Doge at the Right Time

I am reflecting on the birth of US democracy. This is not because I fear I witnessed the onset of it's fatal illness in Cleveland. I am optimistic -- really -- not worried at all that the second act of world Fascism will be farce (absurd enough almost even to overshadow the ridiculousness of Mussolini himself).

I am thinking about George Washington. First I assume that both God and Marx are dead and I don't think the (relative) success of continent scale democracy in the USA was willed by God or historical law. I think the normal expectable outcome of the US war of independence was lord protector George Washington who wasn't as blood thirsty as Cromwell, or, maybe emperor Washington who didn't cause a huge war, because conquering native Americans required only a large war.

I think, and will assume, that two key events in world history include General George Washington surrendering his commission to Congress and President George Washington deciding not to run for re-election in 1996 to make sure he wasn't President for life. I assume that in these two cases (and I suppose others during the long sad comedy of human history) history was made by a single person. A question (of purely academic interest) is why he didn't seize monarchic power. The joke title refers to the elected Doges of Venice who, once elected, had royal power.

I think that Washington was motivated by genuinely heroic vanity -- that he cared more about what people said about him than anything else. I think he made history, because it was necessary to his self esteem to have a glorious place in history. Washington surrendering his commission was portrayed a heroic painting totally unlike any previously painted. I think he did it partly with the possibility of that painting in mind.

This was the re-crossing of the Rubicon -- the effort to undo what Caesar had done and to surpass him in the history books. He is not known to have muttered under his breath "alea iacta est" but I bet he thought it. The odds weren't good, but we haven't crapped out yet.

I think actual historians have assembled overwhelmingly strong evidence that Washington was motivated by an extraordinary obsession with his place in history . There is a letter to Washington advising him to break the promise he made to Congress to retire to private life and to preside over the Constitutional Convention (sorry no link). It argues that it would be dishonorable for him if it were thought that he valued his personal honor above the interests of the nation. Here the magic history making word "honor" clearly refers to reputation at least as much as virtue.

This reminds me of Mount Vernon. From a distance, the mansion is spectacularly impressive as it looks over the Patomac. The river is visible from an impressive portico which is equally visible from the river (which is no longer used for commerce). The impressive pillars are made of painted wood, but sand was mixed in the paint to make ersatz granite. Show not substance was key.

This reminds me of something Alex de Tocqueville wrote without any explicit reference to Washington

When I arrived for the first time at New York, by that part of the Atlantic Ocean which is called the Narrows, I was surprised to perceive along the shore, at some distance from the city, a considerable number of little palaces of white marble, several of which were built after the models of ancient architecture. When I went the next day to inspect more closely the building which had particularly attracted my notice, I found that its walls were of whitewashed brick, and its columns of painted wood. All the edifices which I had admired the night before were of the same kind.

So it's a coincidence Alexis? Suuuuure.

Update: note that I did not, did not write that the Republicans contempt for the founding prinnciples of the Republic placed it in danger, but it shall be saved by Donald Trump because of the characteristic he so conspicuously shares with George Washington. I did not write that his colossal vanity shall save Democracy in America from its terrible enemies in the Republican party. Since 2004, I have carefully refrained from making any predictions about the outcomes of US presidential elections. Alea acta est all over again. I will only note that and that the odds of snake eyes are 35 to 1 (this doesn't mean I question Nate Silver).

update 2: minds think alike. Michael Gerson (my favorite Republican) wrote "The Caesarian option — rolling the dice with a populist authoritarian, using democratic majorities to undermine democratic structures — is common in history." Alia indeed. Interestingly he also noted US problems other than Trump. I would say the other problems are that there are other Republicans. He noted wage stagnation (that is increased inequality) Congress (Republican and bocked by GOP filibusters before) and the politicized Supreme Court (as in Bush V Gore which affected his personal employment).

His argument is that Trump broke with the Republican tradition, but, in passing he conceded that the rest of them are part of the problem not part of the solution

[my comments in brackets]

A

nd our institutional challenges are not imaginary: A long-term, wage-earner recession (to which Republicans have offered little practical response). Educational mediocrity concentrated in high-poverty communities [Republicans fight state or Federal spending on such schools]. Congressional dysfunction [due entirely to Republicans]. A Supreme Court that seems overly political and outcome driven [that is the Republican appointees (other than Sauter and Stevens) who change legal doctrine from case to case but always serve the GOP, large corporations and the rich].

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

GOP Dumpster fire in Cleveland

In a pointless pointless exercise I will blog about what I read on blogs and the Washington Post (sorry Brad) about the Republican Convention's first day.

1) Let's insult the popular governor of a very crucial swing state. Campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump are thin skinned vindictive and stupid. Instead of dodging Kasich questions they decided to force Ohioans to choose (again). This is insane.

2) Roll Call Vote ! I didn't know about the majority of 9 states sign a petition implies a roll call. After running a way for a bit, the chair said enough people in 3 of 9 states changed their minds so a roll call vote on the rules wasn't required. He didn't even name the states. I think he is lying. I also think that some #neverTrumper might sue and it is conceivable that the case won't be dismissed (the GOP does have to follow its own rules).

I don't know if this will dominate the coverage

3) Danger danger. The speakers totally ignore reality.

4) I am actually shocked by Trump's ego, narcissism, imaturity and lack of decency. I am shocked that I am still shocked. He competed with his own convention with an interview on Fox. Fox cut from a mother blaming Clinton for the death of her son to Trump. This is outrageous. Trump is a spoiled child who must always be the center of attention. I am amazed that the utter contempt for all standards of decency isn't being more widely denounced.

update: As usual Charlie Pierce wrote it perfectly

At this point, I couldn't even muster the energy to get angry at the fact that, from the podium of a national convention, the opposing candidate was accused of being half a murderer. There was so much talk about dark betrayals coming from the stage all night that what Smith said got completely lost.

Later, I learned something else. That, during Pat Smith's speech, Trump called into Fox News and forced them to cut away. I learned this just about at the time that He, Trump and Melania were taking their final bows. I got angry then.

end update:

5) Trump's third wife said that he is intensely loyal to his family. Irony died.

Any loyal readers know my theory of The Divine Purpose deducing God's plan from His works. I believe that the supreme being created the earth in order to plumb the utter abyss of stupidity. This means that I fear that once it is plumbed, the Universe will have achieved its purpose and vanish. I have no plans for Friday. Hell after tonight, I have no plans for Tuesday.

update 2: Turns out I was wrong about our Creator's plan. The ultimate abyss of idiocy has been reached and the universe is still here.

https://twitter.com/JarrettHill/status/755242423991709697

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Chait goes full Godwin

QOTD "To be perfectly clear, Trump is not Hitler or a Nazi." is about 10 MegaChaits of shrill, but we get to 100 MegaChaits when Chait feels he needs to explain and defend his bold claim that Trump is not Hitler with

Trump’s racism is not of the genocidal variety, and he is committed neither to a program of Darwinian racial conquest nor the principled imposition of one-party rule. If President Trump does start a world war, it would probably be as a result of blundering rather than a long-term master plan.

So Trump's possible imposition of one party rule would be unprincipled and he probably doesn't have a long-term master plan involving world war (Chait did not add that he makes this last bolded bold claim because he doesn't think that Trump is capable of long-term planning -- that would be a full gigaChait of shrill and I know I am going to have to brush up on my prefixes before this campaign is over).

Chait is 100% serious and makes a fairly convincing case for his (qualified) analogy. He isn't claiming that Trump is Hitler, but he is claiming that the Republicans who endorse Trump are fools or knaves, Hindenbergs or Von Pappens.

Trump’s admiration for ironfisted dictators, not only in Ba'athist Iraq but Russia, China, and North Korea, is the ideological lodestar of his long history of political musings. Over the years, Trump has weaved left and right on health care, abortion, taxes, and even the issues currently central to his campaign, like immigration and trade, but has never wavered from his foundational belief that strong leaders are those who crush their enemies without restraint. Whatever norms or bounds that we think limit the damage a president could inflict are likely to be exceeded if that president is Trump. Those Republicans who publicly endorse Trump because he probably won’t win may be making an error on a historic scale.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Now I understand why Representatives can't control their crazy impulses

Calling Kevin Drum

A House office’s water supply has been tainted by high lead levels and may be unsafe, according to a warning blasted out to congressional offices Tuesday night.

via Steve Benen (of course)

So what evidence is there of actual lead poisoning ?

Lack of impulse control -- check.

Outbursts of Rage -- check.

Inability to Reason -- check.

Physical Violence -- I give it about a week.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

QOTD Charlie Pierce

Really realiably quote of every week day. He's wonderful. I was going to tweet part of this, but gave up on the 140 character limit when I couldn't resist quoting the 280th
it seems to me that there are several ways for the Remain crowd to eventually win the day, especially if The Elites are as powerful as the Leave gang thinks they are. If they think they could stand the gaff, they would simply ignore the results entirely; the balloting was close enough that they could be tempted to do just that, although it might require tossing David Cameron into the Channel, which might just be a unifying moment. They could bury the question in Parliament until the silver anniversary of the coronation of King George VII, who is presently growing teeth in some palace or another. The procedure for departure from the E.U. is untried, so it probably could be monkey-wrenched into infinity, or until a large portion of the Leave constituency goes off to glory, which ought to be any minute now.
I'd add that they can have another advisory referendum on the exact same question. Such a stunt is not explicitly forbidden by the UK's unwritten constitution. It sure seems that Bremain would win (the national currency dropping 10% against the dollar gets attention -- I think this is good for the UK but then I'm not a Brexit voter).

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Daily Drum Comment

Read this post (it is good)

my comment

I tend to agree with you. I will, in fact argue that your two efforts to find some way to agree with the people who say people are pissed don't work.

1) wages. The hint from 16 data point regressions by political scientists is that it is often the economy stupid, but in particular the change in the year of the election. Real wage stagnation from 2001 on should not cause people to be pissed in 2016 but not in 2012. In fact, real wages have been growing recently. Of course people don't believe that (perceived inflation is always higher than measured inflation) but they should be less sure that their real wages are shrinking than usual not more sure.

2) family structure. Oddly you seem to assume that all adults are parents. Both the suffering single mom and the alimony paying dad are parents. Single adults without children have less reason to be angry (especially if they are living with their partner without formal marriage and uh men). I think the trend you need to look at is the trend in children living with both parents. So I googled and found that that fraction has been increased (a tiny bit) in the past few years. http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=family-structure "The proportion of children living with both parents, following a marked decline between 1970 and 1990, has fallen more slowly over the most recent two decades, dropping from 69 percent in 2000 to 64 percent in 2012. By 2015, the proportion had actually increased, to 65 percent."

On the other hand, not all "illicit drugs" are created equal. Those numbers include marijuana which doesn't make people pissed maaaaannn . In contrast opiates make people dead and leave people who care about them emotionally devastated. A summary statistic which sums marijuana, crack, meth and heroin is of only limited usefulness. (note that to be honest I included crack use of which I believe has declined).

"OK so what is happening Robert ?" asks no one at all. I'd guess two different things. I didn't expect Trump to be nominated, but I can understand why Republican voters do the opposite of what the Republican elite want -- this is the "wrath of the conned" hypothesis (I'm a pathetic Krugman groupie even when writing about politics).

Sanders is the first left populist oh roughly since Bryant. I have to mention that I have been predicting for decades that pundits and main stream Democrats will be surprised by the level support for class war. I think this was obscured by the illusion that Obama was a leftist (which is odd given how clearly he expressed his moderation in 2008). It is also true that Clinton was an extraordinarily established establishment candidate. Almost all the other main stream Democrats declined to run. That gave Sanders a (near) monopoly on Democratic sufferers from Clinton Derangement Syndrome and Democrats who don't want the party elite to tell them how to vote. Also she is stuck with her husband's choices from the 90s when the party was very different.

Both parties show anger over the power of the donor class (Trump was self funded before he wasn't). This is clearly a strong sentiment. 80% of Republicans want Citizens United to be reversed. I sure can understand this anger, since I share it. It is clear (and demonstrated with regressions with large sample sizes by Larry Bartles and others) that money is political power in the USA. No one ever thought this was OK. The support for the (lying as always) "my own money" candidate and the "$27 dollar average donation" reflect this anger over politics. Even excellent economic outcomes wouldn't make democracy for sale to the highest bidder OK. I'd say this is a strong aspect of the PPP Trump mentioned (pissed public politics).

Finally, I'd advise you to avoid clicking on twitter notifications. One way to avoid them might be to delete all twitter apps and never ever type www.twitter.com in a browser.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The usual on Drum Yglesias and Taxes

Kevin Drum wrote

If you want to increase taxes on zillionaires, I'm with you. But if you really want to make a dent in inequality, you should also be eager to raise taxes across the board and then spend the money on things like pre-K, health care, and so forth. That's probably where you'll get the biggest bang for the buck.

and I wrote my usual comment.

Excellent as usual. Looking at the second graph, I too thought I had a point, then I noticed that I had confused "World Bank" and "Household" (don't you hate it when that happens).

On the other hand, I think "bang for the buck" is an unfortunate metaphor. The reduction in GINI per dollar is greatest if one taxes extremely high incomes and gives the money to the poorest (as in reversing welfare reform but I will not go there). The bucks involved in "Social Security, Medicaid etc" are extremely numerous and the huge bang corresponds to a moderate bang per buck ratio.

I think the valid question is not "per the buck" but "per the unit of political capital." However, I think this means that soaking the rich is a key part of any plausible anti-inequality policy. The cost in political capital is negative, since the policy is wildly popular. I just saw a poll in which an absolute majority of GOP likely voters supported higher taxes on income over $250,000 per year. Even if one fights for higher taxes on high incomes and loses, Republicans will have fought the proposal and won. This is politically costly for them.

It is vastly easier politically to extract bucks from high income people. Also they need them less than less wealthy people. Bucks from the wealthy work just as well as funding for government programs as bucks from the non wealthy.

I actually don't understand your view (notably shared by Matt Yglesias who I also respect). I will try and fail to come up with an explanation

1) given the huge increase in government spending which we (or at least I) desire, higher taxes on moderate incomes are needed, because an attempt to raise all the money from people with incomes over 250,000 per year would imply tax rates which cause unacceptably large incentive effects (mostly of the form of making tax avoidance even more attractive). Why look at how poorly the US economy performed during the whole period when the top marginal tax rate was over 70 % (hint way better than it performed when the top marginal tax rate was below 70%). Yes, straw man argues, one might attempt to have high rates and not cause costly tax avoidance by plugging loopholes. But that never works (except for whenever it's tried). I don't find argument 1 convincing at all. I'm also fairly confident that you don't either.

2) such extremely high taxes on high incomes are politically impossible. This has the advantage of being true. But even slightly higher taxes on moderate incomes are politically impossible while moderately higher taxes on higher incomes can be enacted (see your graph). Importantly, I don't know of much of any evidence that opinions on whether taxes on high incomes are too high or too low has anything to do with how high or low those taxes are. All elected Republicans always want lower taxes on high incomes. Most other people have consistently supported higher taxes on high incomes. The marked change since 2009 has passed almost un-noticed.

I don't see how anyone can believe argument 2. It is an argument about what is politically possible based on rejecting all evidence from polling and all historical evidence about what has and hasn't been done (and therefore demonstrably doable) in the past 3 decades.

So I remain mystified. I don't find your conclusion convincing. I have no idea how you reached it. I am puzzled.

Area Couple Quarrels About Money

Well, that seems awkward: "A lifelong Democrat, Bruce Rauner's wife Diana campaigned enthusiastically for the Republican multimillionaire businessman during his 2014 bid for Illinois governor. Now the child-advocacy group she leads is among 82 social service providers suing her husband's administration for payment of over $130 million locked up in Illinois' unprecedented budget fight with Democratic legislative leaders." My wife and I have had our little disagreements, but I can assure you that we have never argued about $130 million.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Did the Donald keep the aspidistra flying ?

Kevin Drum asks "What *Did* Donald Trump Mean by "No PP"?"

"As you'll recall, after forgetting what "TPP" meant in a speech last night, Donald Trump smirked and made a little joke to his audience: "What you mean is, 'No PP.'" Or, perhaps, "no pee pee." But what did he mean?"

I guess he was referring to "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" by George Orwell

The BB in 1984 is an echo of a sort of the PP in "Keep the Aspidistra Flying". It stood for "Pedic Perspiration" (as in "uh oh foot odor" from my childhood) and pathetic protagonist ad-man and wannabe poet Gordon Comstock was somehow involved in an extremely horrible ad campaign warning about "PP".

No doubt Trump is as fanatical an Orwell fan as I am (except he treats "1984 an instruction manual" -Brad DeLong).

Since Donald Trump always lies, I assume he was suffering from severe pedic perspiration.

No way in hell would I be willing to fact check that one

Monday, May 23, 2016

TIM provides a challenge for Google Translate

i just got an e-mail from TIM the cellphone subsidiary of the entirely privatized telecom Italia which is a for profit private sector publicly traded limited liability corporation and it's entirely coincidental that it often gets a new CEO when Italy gets a new Prime Minister. I added credit to my phone account on the web. I read the confirmation that the operation was a success, but when I tried to call, I heard a sweet Italian voice telling me my credit was exhausted. TIM sent an e-mail of confirmation which concluded
N.B. La ricarica sara' immediatamente resa disponibile come credito telefonico e comunque non oltre le 48 ore dal momento della richiesta.
Will Google attempt to translate that ? It gives
N.B. The charge will be 'made available immediately as phone credit and no later than 48 hours from the time of request.
Amazingly, that is exactly correct. I would have thought that a sophisticated but merely not human translator would be stumped by "immediately ... and no later than 48 hours from the time or request" Google is as amazing as TIM (slogan "be evil").

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

DeLong on Hayek, Smith, and Smith

Brad answers a question raised by Noah with thoughts on Friedrich and Adam.

I totally lost all self control in his comments section and waste even more pixels by cutting and pasting here.

Before reading this, I tried to tweet the same point you made. However, here I will be contrarian.

1) on the road to serfdom. Science progresses as people develop testable hypotheses, test them and reject them. Like "Leviathan", "The Road to Serfdom" presented a plausible (if pessimistic) hypothesis which turned out not to correspond to reality. I think the train wreck came later as Hayek refused to admit that his clear testable prediction was false. He was careful to make such a prediction (after talking with un-named friends including I'm sure Popper): A country is irreversibly on the road to Serfdom when it introduces capital controls (it's in the book). So the UK is bound to end up like the USSR and Nazi Germany (as was Italy when I arrived here).

Here my point (if any) is that the hypothesis in the Road to Serfdom was actually plausible when it was printed. Based on my first edition of the second volume of "The Open Society and It's Enemies" I am fairly sure that, when first printed, "The Road to Serfdom" included a note asserting that it was printed in accordance with his Majesty's regulations on the use of paper (making Hayek's observation that freedom of the press is not worth much if the state controls the supply of paper both valid and redundant).

In contrast, Hobbes didn't live long enough to see disproof of his claim. If he had lived until 1688, I'm sure he would have argued that the division of power between William&Mary and parliament would lead to the war of all against all. By 1697 or so, he would argue that the UK was enduring a silent war of all against all in which life is poorer, less sociable, more miserable and shorter than it could be under an absolute monarchy. Hobbes was saved from the sad fate of Hayek, because his life was rich, sociable, happy and short enough.

By the way, I never noticed that Hobbes and Hayek had the exact same rhetorical strategy: anything position other than exactly the one I like is on a slippery slope to hell.

I am now going to defend Smith. You note that he discussed things other than relative prices (home bias and the "individuals' non self-interested desires to feel marked out above and superior to others" in which, by the way, I think, "non self-interested" should be "self-interested" Hayek too did not confine his thought to relative prices and only relative prices. The fact that Smith noted other factors (which do in fact exist) doesn't mean he didn't understand the role of markets.

Here I am criticizing your reasoning. You can't prove that Smith didn't consider price signals by noting he considered something else. I agree with you about Hayek and emergent properties of markets, but it is very hard to prove your case, as it is always very hard to prove any idea is original (great men create their predecessors) . To prove it, you would have to show it isn't anywhere in "Wealth of Nations" or "The Theory of the Moral sentiments" or in *anything* written between 1776 and the 20th century.

Over at Twitter, Noah notes that the idea that markets have emergent properties has not influenced economic theory. He is right. The standard approach -- Nash equilibrium -- really is based on utter rejection of Hayek's insight (and I claim Smith's). Agents are assumed to think about everything and to effortlessly find the exact solutions to math problems which don't have closed form solutions. Hayek can be seen as arguing against Walras (and his mythical auctioneer) and (avant le lettre) Nash and his utter rejection of methodological individualism. Noah notes that Nash won (so far).

I suppose one might hope this victory isn't final (a theory based on Nash equilibrium and methodological individualism must be vulnerable based on it's obvious logical inconsistency just as a methodology based on Friedman's methodology and the Lucas critique has the (so far minor) inconvenience that each is exactly the statement that the other is false).

Obviously, I've totally lost control of myself, but assuming no one is reading and noting that pixels (unlike paper) are abundant, I will now add a half-assed effort to critique Hayek. I think he provided an example in which markets are useful. He concluded that markets are always good. This does not follow. You've already added "competitive", "without externalities" and "rational" but this still isn't true -- OLG models can give horrible market outcomes so can a Diamond search model. For your claim to be true "competitive" and "without externalities" must be redefined to mean "such that markets yield highly productive outcomes". The claim can be tautological or false, but the set of exceptions is so vast that the only meaningful true claim is "some examples in which market outcomes are OK in some ways have been found."

Also "highly productive" is a very weak and vague claim -- it isn't even the (uninteresting but false) claim that the assumptions you list imply Pareto efficiency (to get to Pareto efficiency you'd need to add "complete markets" and sell me one unit of the asset which pays one unit of numeraire good if the temperature in your office is between 75 and 75.000001 degress (typo not corrected because it is clearly Freudian, but I digrees)).

Frankly, I think the case for markets is found in the wreckage of the "The Road to Serfdom" train wreck (I agree the train went off the rails, I just think it was still on them in 1945). The case that market outcomes are OK consists of extremely strong assumptions implying extremely weak conclusion. The case that markets are the worst possible way to organize economies except for all the others which have ever been invented isn't so weak.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Jon Snow

I stopped watching "Game of Thrones" when it separated from the Game of Ice and Fire books (that is at the start of last season IIRC). I have been amazed by the persistent purported deadness of Jon Snow.

Spoiler alert. I'm just guessing, but Matt Yglesias has gone public so why can't I ?

I am confident that he will turn out not to be dead if Martin ever finishes the next volume (and in the outline which he has written down in case he doesn't live that long). The reason is that, like most hard core fans, I have long been very confident that he is the son of Rhaegar Targaryan and Lyanna Stark.

I have a further guess. "A Dance with Dragons" ends with the stabbing of Jon Snow. He loses conciousness (which is not the same as dying as I notice at least once a night). Just before, there was a fairly extensive scene featuring a giant prisoner (whom Snow was trying to help). It seems fairly clear to me that this giant would break his chains and save Snow. There is a reason to have him near at hand. Snow also has strangely good relations with Melisandre of Asshai who is perfectly capable of just about anything (including breaking chains which hold a giant). Also Ghost and Mance Rayder who, in the books, is not a ghost.

OK now Snow's actual parents. I think this has been clear since book 1 (the one actually entitled "Game of Thrones").

Here Eddard Stark repeatedly remembers his sister forcing him to promise something (some things actually as there is a single reference to plural "promises"). Her death is not explained (and childbirth is dangerous in Westeros).

As Yglesias notes, Rhaegar's alleged kidnapping of Lyanna Stark is totally out of character. He is presented as a very moral person very much admired by everyone who knew him.

One problem with Yglesias's post is he considers the possibility that Rhaegar and Lyanna might marry. Rhaegar was already married to a Martel at the time.

On the other hand I missed the capital S in "all I see is Snow". This might explain Melisandre's interactions with Jon Snow (among other things revealing that Rayder is still alive and trying to convince him to stop fighting his nature).

Finally Belarion the dread -- is among other things the nickname Rhaenys Targaryen gave to her black kitten. An old black cat which hates Lannister's (and has only one ear) has appeared more than once (chased by Arya Stark then much later scaring Tommen Lannister). I assume they are the same cat. I also assume that Arya Stark will see through the eyes of Belarion).

But who is the third head of the dragon ? The only candidate of whom I've read is Tyrion Lannister on the assumption that he is Aerys's bastard. I thought of Brandon Stark who is destined to fly (but that might be as a crow).

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Vegetable Debate

Had we but world enough, and time

...

our vegetable debate should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow;

I am moving this here, because I do not wish to further pollute a crooked timber thread here

Here is Henry Farrell explaining Doug Henwood's critique of Matthew Yglesias on July 18 2011

This means that vaguely-leftish versions of neo-liberalism often have weak theories of politics, and in particular of the politics of collective action. I see Doug and others as arguing that successful political change requires large scale organized collective action, and that this in turn requires the correction of major power imbalances (e.g. between labor and capital).

and

I’m sure that critics can point to political blind spots among lefties (e.g. the difficulties in figuring out what is a necessary compromise, and what is a blatant sell-out), but these don’t seem to me to be potentially crippling, in the way that the absence of a neo-liberal theory of politics (who are the organized interest groups and collective actors who will push consistently for technocratic efficiency?) is.

The post vaguely reminded Brad of Marxism. Farrell recently mentioned that he happens to be a Weberian social democrat (in case you were wondering).

I had some silly pointless thoughts.

One is that I would bet that Brad heard "No combination of market mechanisms and technocratic solutions without theory" when reading Farrell (except for the fact that Brad is a speed reader who doesn't hear words in his head when he reads).

In any case, in this crooked timber thread, I personally objected to the word "theories" with an analogy so clumsy that it caused some mixture of intellectual distress and amusement (for one thing I should have objected to the second passage including "theory" not the first including "theories").

"I don’t like the word “theories”. I don’t think that anyone including left neo-liberals needs a theory of change in order to achieve change. Trees have no theory of photosynthesis, but they grow all the same. "

I want to explain what I meant to write (or perhaps I want to write what I should have written). Actually, re-reading it seems clear to me and not to admit the interpretations made by Farrell and William Berry.

"I do disagree with your suggestion that you don’t need a theory of politics as politics grows like a tree" -- Henry Farrell

I note that didn't suggest that politics grows like a tree. I will rephrase my analogy to make it clearer (or to correct it)

"Straw Farrell says that left neo-liberals are "crippled" because of "the absence of a neo-liberal theory of politics". I imagine Straw Farrell meeting a hungry lion and saying to himself 'hmmm that lion probably wants to eat me, good thing that it is crippled by the absence of a leonine theory of muscular contractions". I would have to warn straw Farrell that the lion does not have to think about actin, myosin or ATP in order to run faster than straw Farrell (who need not worry as he would be very unappetizing being made of straw).

I think what Farrell meant was that neo-liberals rely on an unstated implicit thoery of change which does not correspond to reality at all. I at least would say that the possible problem is one of accidental theory -- reliance on theory which is made more absolute and blind because the neo-liberals don't understand that they are assuming a theory of change. Straw left neo-liberals have the theory that their analysis is sound, so all will recognize that it is sound, so all will use it to make the world better, since all agree on what would be better. The problem isn't the absence of a theory of change, or even the absence of an explicit theory of change. It is a totally false theory of change (which is so silly that it can't survive if made explicit).

Totally aside from the lions and the trees, Farrell and I agree that the left neo-liberals we are discussing do have theories of change and those theories are not at all similar to straw neo-liberals' theory.

Now William Berry

I am struck by Robert Waldmann’s grotesque analogy.

A tree doesn’t just grow; its growth is governed by constraints that are narrower than those of any theory, and that is the set of epigenetic processes that are mediated by the complex interactions of gene expression and the influences of a very particular environment.

And there is no such thing as a political movement without doctrinal discipline (i.e., theory) of some kind.

Berry seems to have read my claim that trees are not theorists to imply that there is no valid theory of tree biology. Desperately trying to be semi civil, I just note that I think the problem is that my claim was too obvious to be noticed. Photosynthesis isn't crippled if trees don't think about photosynthesis. It was a claim about trees' mental life (which follows from the belief that they have no mental life at all) not about photosynthesis, tree growth, or the possibility that biological research might be useful.

Political movements aren't necessarily crippled if the political actors don't think about theories of change.

My claim is entirely consistent with the hypothesis that we all should think about theories of change and that political movements in which the actors spend considerable time thinking about theories of change are more effective than others. It takes a lot for an "absence" to "cripple"

Well that was pointless. If anyone is still reading, I'd like to stress that I don't think that developing and testing theories of change is a waste of time. I think that it is a worthwhile branch of social science which is very useful to political movements. I think my objection actually was to the word "crippled" which, I think, overstates the costs of brief casual consideration of mechanisms of political change by wonks. Also, importantly, the wonks who are being discussed think a lot about politics and have theories of change. In fact they like the phrase theory of change. Yglesias sure does so does Ezra Klein Brad uses the phrase less (I'd guess he goes more for Weberian or Marxist jargon), Krugman. This is not a group of people characterized by an absense of theories of change.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Comment on Henry Farrel commenting on Brad DeLong commenting on Henry Farrel commenting on Doug Henwood

Your post is admirably courteous in tone. I admire but am not able to emulate.

First I think I could make the polite debate between you and Brad even more polite. I didn't get the impression Brad claimed you are a Marxist. I think he suggested that Doug Henwood is a Marxist. Your quoted post explained an objection to left neo-liberals and said it had some merit. I think that perhaps you and Brad can agree that you see some merit in Marx's arguments (in any case he sure does).

However, I have some rude things to say about your writing as quoted by Brad. I don't like the word "theories". I don't think that anyone including left neo-liberals needs a theory of change in order to achieve change. Trees have no theory of photosynthesis, but they grow all the same. You can't really be surprised if an appeal to theory in the context of politics made Brad think of Marx. In any case, your interpretation of Henwood's argument appears to be that there is no convincing explanation of how the policies developed by Yglesias at all will actually improve the world, since they won't be implemented.

" This means that vaguely-leftish versions of neo-liberalism often have weak theories of politics, and in particular of the politics of collective action. I see Doug and others as arguing that successful political change requires large scale organized collective action"

OK now I create straw Doug Henwood who argues that Yglesias (and Brad, C and D Romer, Ezra Klein, Larry Summers, David Cutler, and Jon Gruber) are off in their ivory towers designing policies which will never be implemented because they haven't thought enough about class struggle. The problem with Straw Henwood is too obvious even for a comment on a blog. The neo-liberals I listed have achieved political change (even though I resisted the temptation to include the neoliberal wonks named Barack Obama and Bill Clinton on my list).

It seems to me that your current post is an excellent critique of your earlier post. You explain Summers's theory of change -- he says the key is to get ahead by getting along and influence powerful people. I hazard the guess that this wasn't his first approach (OK I hazard dozens of vivid memories). Technocrats have power (by the definition of the suffice 'crat). They exist. Politicians seek their advice. This is the way political change has occurred (lest I seem to celebratory I think the most influential interaction of an intellectual of sorts and a politician who achieved change occurred when Arthur Laffer sketched a curve on a napkin).

Yglesias clearly has a plan. He argues that good policies are good politics -- that voters re-elect incumbents if things are going well even if the voters opposed incumbents policies when they were implemented. So, he argues, listen to technocrats -- we will tell you how to win re-election -- oh and also serve the people which, of course, is the reason you got into politics in the first place. Look what happened to B Clinton when he listened to Robert Rubin and raised taxes on Robert Rubin et al.

Now I don't know if there is any theory of history such that this plan is anything other than a pipe dream. But I do know that it works. Klein at least, hob nobs with the President of the United States. That president has achieved a lot (even if much less than one might hope). I'd say actual change trumps theories of change.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Brad DeLong Marks His Beliefs about "The Return of Depression Economics" to Market

I am overwhelmed by admiration for Brad DeLong (happens a lot) who reposted his review of Krugman's "The Return of Depression Economics" from 1999 "Just in case I get a swelled-head and think I am right more often than I am ..."

update: Do read Brad's review/post. It is mostly brilliant (aside from the error which he stresses). In particular, Krugman and Delong both warn of the danger of allowing firms to borrow in foreign currency. Way back in 1999 it was widely agreed that East Asian countries had harmed themselves by borrowing in dollars. Later the Argentine crisis demonstrated this again with the worst recession after WWII and before Greece's recent crisis.

But it seems to have been forgotten. I read in the March 5-11 2016 economist "By the middle of last year, the stock of dollar loans to non-bank borrowers, including companies and government, had reached $3.3 trillion. Indeed until recently, dollar credit to borrowers outside America was growing more quickly than to borriwers within it. The fastest increase of all was in corproate bonds issued by emerging-market firms.

One can hope that, this time it's different and won't end in disaster. Well at least one can wish.

end update:

Way back in the last century, Brad thought he had a valid criticism of Paul Krugman's argument that Japan (and more generally countries in a liquidity trap) need higher expected inflation. I think the re-post is not just admirable as a self criticism session, but also shows us something about the power of Macroeconomic orthodoxy. Brad is just about as unorthodox as an economist can be without being banished from the profession, but even he was more influenced by Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas than he should have been. I reproduce the offending passage below.

The context is that Japan had slack aggregate demand at a safe nominal interest rate of 0 -- that is it was in the liquidity trap. Krugman argued that higher expected inflation would cause negative expected real interest rates and higher aggregate demand and solve the problem. Brad was unconvinced (way back then).

But at this point Krugman doesn't have all the answers. For while the fact of regular, moderate inflation would certainly boost aggregate demand for products made in Japan, the expectation of inflation would cause an adverse shift in aggregate supply: firms and workers would demand higher prices and wages in anticipation of the inflation they expected would occur, and this increase in costs would diminish how much real production and employment would be generated by any particular level of aggregate demand.

Would the benefits on the demand side from the fact of regular moderate inflation outweigh the costs on the supply side of a general expectation that Japan is about to resort to deliberate inflationary finance? Probably. I'm with Krugman on this one. But it is just a guess--it is not my field of expertise--I would want to spend a year examining the macroeconomic structure of the Japanese economy in detail before I would be willing to claim even that my guess was an informed guess.

And there is another problem. Suppose that investors do not see the fact of inflation--suppose that Japan does not adopt inflationary finance--but that a drumbeat of advocates claiming that inflation is necessary causes firms and workers to mark up prices and wages. Then we have the supply-side costs but not the demand-side benefits, and so we are worse off than before.

As Brad now notes, this argument makes no sense. I think it might be hard for people who learned about macro in the age of the liquidity trap to understand what he had in mind. I also think the passage might risk being convincing to people who haven't read enough Krugman or Keynes.

The key problems in the first paragraphs are "adverse" and "any particular level of aggregate demand". Brad assumed that an increase in wage and price demands is an adverse shift. The argument that it is depends on the assumption that he can consider a fixed level of *nominal* aggregate demand (and yet he didn't feel the need to put in the word "nominal"). The butchered sentence "would diminish how much real production and employment would be generated by any particular level of [real] aggregate demand." clearly makes no sense.

During the 80s, new Keynesian macro-economists got into the habit of considering a fixed level of nominal aggregate demand when focusing on aggregate supply. Because it wasn't the focus, they used the simplest existing model of aggregate demand the rigid quantity theory of money in which nominal aggregate demand is a constant times the money supply (which is assumed to be set by the monetary authority). This means that the aggregate demand curve (price level on the y axis and real gdp on the x axis) slopes down. This in turn means that an upward shift in the aggregate supply curve is an adverse shift.

More generally, the way in which a higher price level causes lower real aggregate demand is by reducing the real value of the money supply, but if the economy is in the liquidity trap the reduction in the real money supply has no effect on aggregate demand. In the case considered by Krugman, the aggregate demand curve is vertical. This means that he can discuss the effect of policy on real GDP without considering the aggregate supply curve.

The second paragraph just repeats the assumption that higher expected inflation causes "costs". There are no such costs (at least according to current and then existing theory) if the economy is in a liquidity trap.

The third paragraph shows confusion about the cause of the "demand side benefits". They are caused by higher expected inflation not by higher actual inflation. If there were higher expected inflation not followed by higher actual inflation, Japan would enjoy the benefits anyway. Those benefits would outweigh the non-existent costs.

Krugman actually did consider a model of aggregate supply, but it is so simple it is easy to miss. As usual (well as became usual as Krugman did this again and again) the model has two periods -- the present and the long run. In the present, it is assumed that wages and prices are fixed. In the long run it is assumed that there is full employment and constant inflation. Krugman's point is that all of the important differences between old Keynesian models and models with rational forward looking agents can be understood with just two periods and very simple math. The problem is that the math is so simple that it is easy to not notice it is there and to assume that he ignored the supply side.

I am going to be dumb (I am not playing dumb -- I just worked through each step) and consider different less elegant models of aggregate supply. The following will be extremely boring and pointless

1) fixed nominal wages, flexible prices and profit maximization (this is Keynes's implicit model of aggregate supply). In this case, the supply curve gives increasing real output as a function of the price level. An "adverse" shift of this curve would be a shift up. It would not affect real output in the liquidity trap since the aggregate demand curve is vertical. it would not impose any costs as the increased price level would reduce the real money supply from plenty of liquidity to still plenty of liquidity. This model of aggregate supply is no good (it doesn't fit the facts). It is easy to fear that Krugman implicitly assumed it was valid when in a rush (at least this is easy if one hasn't been reading Krugman every day for years -- he doesn't do things like that).

2) a fixed expectations unaugmented Phillips curve which gives inflation as an increasing function of output. An "adverse" shift of he Phillips curve would imply higher inflation. This would have no costs.

3) an expectations augmented Phillips curve in which expected inflation is equal to lagged inflation -- output becomes a function of the change in inflation. In a liquidity trap, there would be either accelerating inflation or accelerating deflation. For a fixed money supply accelerating inflation would reduce real balances until the economy would no longer be in a liquidity trap. The simple model would imply the possibility of accelerating deflation and ever decreasing output. This model is no good, because such a catastrophe has never occurred, Japan had constant mild deflation which did not accelerate, even during the great depression the periods of deflation ended.

4) An expectations autmented Phillips curve with rational expectations -- oh hell I'll just assume perfect foresight. Here both the aggregate demand and aggregate supply curves are vertical. If they are at different levels of output, there is no solution. The result is that a liquidity trap is impossible. This is basically a flexible price model. If there were aggregate demand greater than the fixed aggregate supply, the price level would jump up until the real value of money wasn't enough to satiate liquidity preference. Krugman assumed that, in the long run, people don't make systematic forecasting mistakes. So he assumed that the economy can't stay in the liquidity trap for the long run. Ah yes, his model had everything new classical in the long run (this is the point on which Krugman has marked his beliefs to market).

The argument that Krugman would not have reached his conclusions about the economics of economies in liquidity traps if he had considered the supply side only makes sense if it includes the intermediate step that, if one considers the supply side, one must conclude that economies can never be in liquidity traps. This is no good as Japan was in the liquidity trap as are all developed countries at present.

I think the only promising effort here was 3 -- a Phillips curve with autoregressive expectations. The problem is why hasn't accelerating deflation ever occurred ? Way back in 1999, Krugman clearly thought that the answer was just that we had been lucky so far. He warned of the risk of accelerating deflation. Now he thinks he was wrong. Like Krugman, I think the reason is that there is downward nominal rigidity -- that it is very hard to get people to accept a lower nominal wage or sell for a lower price. This depends on the change in the wage or price and *not* in that change minus expected inflation.

Clearly this rigidity isn't absolute (Japan has had deflation and there were episodes of deflation in the 30s). But it is possible to get write a model in which unemployment is above the non accelerating inflation rate, but nominal wages aren't cut. In this case expected inflation remains constant -- actual deflation doesn't occur so expected deflation doesn't occur. The math can work. See here

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Karl Marx didn't feel the Bern in 1875

The democratic socialist Bernie Sanders says that higher education should be provided without tuition. What did socialist Karl Marx think of that ?
"Universal compulsory school attendance. Free instruction." The former exists even in Germany, the second in Switzerland and in the United States in the case of elementary schools. If in some states of the latter country higher education institutions are also "free", that only means in fact defraying the cost of education of the upper classes from the general tax receipts. Incidentally, the same holds good for "free administration of justice" demanded under A, 5. The administration of criminal justice is to be had free everywhere; that of civil justice is concerned almost exclusively with conflicts over property and hence affects almost exclusively the possessing classes. Are they to carry on their litigation at the expense of the national coffers?
Yep he said that free higher education was a total scam. Karl Marx against Bernie Sanders. Also note that back in the day (1875) there were 0 tuition universities in the USA. With progress like this the USA will have a god-Pharoah by 2075. And how about that tort reform ? The GOP wouldn't dream of making plaintiffs pay judges for their time, but Karl Marx went there (OK he was there it was the way things were back then).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

On Delong at Huffington

This is my comment on Brad DeLong's article in the Huffington Post.

I think the Huffington post editor might have cut out a key paragraph. In the article as edited there is no description of an overhang until remedies are discussed

"What we need now is 1) debt relief to unwind the overhang and 2) much tighter financial regulation to prevent the growth of new fragilities. And if those prove inconsistent with full recovery, then we need massive government spending on infrastructure and other investments financed by money printing until full employment is reattained."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-delong/global-economic-depression_b_8924596.html?1452263364

It isn't clear exactly which overhang you had in mind. I assume it is household debt as you wrote somewhere that you have been convinced by Mian and Sufi.

I don't know if this is due to the ruthless Huffingediting, but I have 3 problems with your proposals.

1) I strongly object to the word "then". As written it implies that fiscal stimulus should be used only after debt relief is tried and fails. Ignoring the political impossibility of fiscal stimulus (on the grounds that debt relief is also politically impossible) I'd argue for fiscal stimulus now. Even if debt relief works, it will take time. I am ignoring politics so I assume Congress acts tomorrow, but even then (tomorrow) it will be slow and messy. Unlike bankers, ordinary people don't promptly find out about available subsidies and grab them. Relief for the banks took time. Under the most optimistic forecast there should still be slack demand (at a Federal funds rate of zero) for over a year -- time for fiscal stimulus to help.

2) We need massive government investment. It doesn't have to be financed with money printing. I think it makes almost exactly difference if it is financed with money or T-bills -- money and T-bills are still essentially perfect substitutes. I think it makes very very little difference if it is financed with money or 7 year treasury notes. I note the lack of evidece for a correctly signed effect of QE-II. Finally, I think it makes almost no difference whether it is financed with debt or taxes on capital income or high labor incomes. I note that monetized deficits are taboo and deficit spending is unpopular while higher taxes on the rich are popular (supported even by a substatial minority of self declared Republicans).

3) I am not sure what the effect of debt overhang is supposed to be. You often print your NIPA graph of components of aggregate demand and note that the shortfall is in housing investment and public consumption and investment. The abnormally low public investment tends to suggest to anyone who doesn't think it was way to high in the past, that it should be increased even if the social cost were ordinary (that is aside from your macroeconomic consideration). For public investment, the relevant debt overhang is state and local government debt. Bond markets tell us that Federal debt is a political not an economic problem.

So I guess you think that housing investment is lower than it should be due to excessive household debt. Yes that is a value judgment (your proposals must be intended to change things from the way they are to the way they should be). Your value judgment is based on the assumption that US housing invesment was the way it should be back in 2000 before the bubble. I remain unconvinced that 2000 was before the bubble. I think demand for houses back in 2000 was based on irrational beliefs about house price appreciation which couldn't last forever -- that is I think there was a housing buble back then too. I think it started in the 1970s. What if Shiller is right and there isn't a long term trend in (house prices)/(consumer price index, people have incorrectly believed for decades that there is, and people now believe there isn't ? Then it is possible that curent levels of housing investment are the new normal and other sources of aggregate demand must be found. I think it is entirely possible that housing investment in the 80s and 90s was due to a bubble which couldn't last forever, but did last an extraodrinarily long time, because the people extrapolated a trend in a relative price which they didn't observe.

I'm not convinced there is anything abnormal in US aggregate demand except for low government consumption plus investment.

This is too long already, but I note that I agree with mwilbert and dilbert dogbert (in comments here ) that there seems to be a trend in prime age labor force participation which is not just due to low aggregate demand and discouragement. I the issue is that some people who are classified as prime age don't feel that they are in their prime (increasing numbers claim to be disabled). Now this is horrible for those of us who left prime age in the past year but it's in the data. Prime aged adults are aging and labor force participation has always declined some well before people had any business thinking about retiring (stop Robert you have to actually work in, like, a real job before you can retire). There is no need to look only at such a simple statistic as the prime age employment ratio. It is possible to regress labor force participation on year dummies and a flexible function of age and look at the coefficients on the year dummies. This has been done and it makes a difference.

Also I think Krugman (as usual) shares some of the credit for getting things right. He argued that this is not our father's recession and contrasted inflation fighting and bubble bursting recessions. Your (brilliant) look at every 4th year univariate analysis of GDP didn't take into account the fact that the Fed was slamming on the brakes then on the gas in your sample. A normal recovery included a dramatic decline in the Federal Funds rate. Stiglitz wasn't the only one who noted that wasn't going to happen in 2009.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

E-mail is the work of the Devil

Ross Douthat's Sunday Column

I blame Josh Barro who tweeted a link to this column. So I started to read it. Note to self -- don't Do that.

So I fisk.

"MAYBE Donald Trump is doing us a favor.

The United States has long been spared a truly authoritarian element in our politics. Since Southern apartheid was crushed and far-left terrorism died away , we’ve had very little organized political violence, and few homegrown movements that manifest the authoritarian temptation."

Far right terrorism with no explicit link to Southern apartheid has long (I think always) been stronger than far left terrorism. The "far-left terrorism" is a mixture of Ballance and determination to keep the affirmative action for Republicans advantage.

"Yes, our political institutions are creaking, and our presidency is increasingly imperial. But there are still basic norms that both parties and every major politician claim to honor and respect."

The presidency is much less imperial than it wsa 8 years ago, when the administration explicitly asserted that the president was above the law ("when acting as commander in Chief") when the president claimed the authority to have US citizens arrested in the US and held indefinitely without trial or access to counsel, & when the president claimed the authority to establish special tribunals by executive order without even the pretense that the order was executing a law. Here Douthat wrote something absurd and plainly false, because he has to write it to claim he is a Republican and has a right to be a token Republican on the NY Times opinion pages.

"What Trump is doing, then, is showing us something different, something that less fortunate countries know all too well: how authoritarianism works, how it seduces, and ultimately how it wins.

But — God willing — he’s doing it in a way that’s sufficiently chaotic, ridiculous and ultimately unpopular that he will pass from the scene without actually taking power, leaving us to absorb the lessons of his rise."

I note the logical inconsistency between saying Trump shows how authoritarianism wins and the hope that he is incompetent so his authoritarian effort will lose. It can only mean that the way authoritarianism wins is by being "chaotic, ridiculous and ... unpopular". I think this is the most charitable possible interpretation of Douthat's reasoning.

"That rise has four building blocks. First, his strongest supporters have entirely legitimate grievances. The core of that support is a white working class that the Democratic Party has half-abandoned and the Republican Party has poorly served — a cohort facing social breakdown and economic stagnation, and stuck with a liberal party offering condescension and open borders and a conservative party offering foreign quagmires and capital gains tax cuts. Trump’s support is broader than just these voters, but they’re the reason he’s a phenomenon, a force."

The Democratss offer closed borders with a very high rate of deportations (record level ?) and negative net migration from Mexico. Douhat must know this, but I think he considers noting inconvenient facts to be "condescension". Of course he can effortlessly make the case that Republican policies are bad for the working class (white and non-white) but he can only make a plainly utterly false assertion on a matter of fact and link to a necessarily subjective assessment of tone to make the case against the Democrats. He knows this and it doesn't matter. He is trying to participate in the debate within the GOP. False assertions on the increawsingly imperial presidency and open borders are part of the admission fee.

"Second, you have the opportunists — the politicians and media figures who have seen some advantage from elevating Trump. The first wave of these boosters, including Ted Cruz and various talk radio hosts, clearly imagined that Trump would flare and die, and by being in his corner early they could win his voters later, or gain his fans as listeners. But the next wave, upon us now, thinks that Trump is here to stay, and their hope is to join his inner circle (if they’re politicians), shape his policy proposals (if they’re idea peddlers), or be the voice of the Trump era (if they’re Sean Hannity).

There is no real ideological consistency to this group: Trump’s expanding circle of apologists includes Sarah Palin and Steve Forbes, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie; he has anti-immigration populists and Wall Street supply-siders, True Conservatives and self-conscious moderates, evangelical preachers and avowed white nationalists. The only common threads are cynicism, ambition and a sense of Trump as a ticket to influence they couldn’t get any other way.

Then third, you have the institutionalists — less cynical, not at all enamored of Trump, but unwilling to do all that much to stop him. These are people who mostly just want Republican politics to go back to normal, who fear risk and breakage and schism too much to go all in against him.

The institutionalists include the party apparatchiks who imagine they can manage and constrain Trump if he gets the nomination. They include the donors who’ve been reluctant to fund the kind of scorched-earth assault that the Democrats surely have waiting. They include the rivals who denounce Trump as a con artist but promise to vote for him in the fall. They include Republicans who keep telling themselves stories about how Trump will appoint conservative justices or Trump is expanding the party to pretend that Trump versus Hillary would be a normal sort of vote. And they even include the occasional liberal convinced that Trump-the-dealmaker is someone the Democrats can eventually do business with.

" I actually agree with these 4 paragraphs.

"Then, finally, you have the inevitabilists — not Trump supporters, but Trump enablers, who encourage the institutionalists in their paralysis by acting and talking as if the support of 35 percent of the primary electorate means Trump Cannot Be Stopped."

Actually 43%. Also I read only that he will be unstoppable if nothing changes before the ides of March are passed. Douthat doesn't quote an inevitabilist. He can't, because although there are preople who are confident that Trump won't be stopped all know he could be (if the voters unanimously decide to stop him he will be stopped). Douthat set up a straw man who made an absurd claim.

Some inevitabilists are intoxicated with celebrity and star power. Cable news is riddled with such voices, who daily manifest Orwell’s dictum, “Power worship blurs political judgment,” so that, “Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible.”

Does the NY Times have copy editors ? Douthat used quotation marks without quoting anyone in particular. He asserted that someone said those words in that order (and no others note no ellipses). The quoted words are a claim of fact, whihc should be checked. Douthat should be forced to retract his claim if he can't proves someone said each of those things. Also note how the (falsely alleged) claim that someone "seems invincible" is used to support the (unsupported) claim that someone thinks Trump is invincible. It seems that Douthat does not understand the difference between to be and to seem to be.

"Others, especially in the intelligentsia, have a kind of highbrow nihilism about our politics, a sense that American democracy’s decadence — or the Republican Party’s decadence, in particular — is so advanced that a cleansing Trumpian fire might be just the thing we need.

I have a little bit of the last vice, which is why I spent a long time being anti-anti-Trump: not rooting for him to win, but appreciating his truth-telling on certain issues, his capacity to upset the stagnant status quo.

Which is the way it so often works with authoritarians. They promise a purgation that many people at some level already desire, and only too late do you realize that the purge will extend too far, and burn away too much."

OK Ross Douthat has finally named one of the fools tempted by authoritarianism. He is named Ross Douthat. I can't contradict Douthat's claim that he is a fool who plays with fire. He would know.

"Fortunately Trump’s fire should still be contained, by the wider electorate if not by his hapless party. Fortunately he’s still more a comic-opera demagogue than a clear and present danger. Fortunately this is just history giving us a lesson in what could happen, how the republic could slide into a strongman’s hands.

" Fortunately."

A bit weak on "should" and "shall" isn't he. I suppose that given this column, Douthat has decided to vote for Clinton or Sanders rather than Trump. But he didn't write that did he ?