The American Interest: A Republic If You Can Keep It

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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260 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The illiberal problem. Liberal democracy always had an issue of what do yo do with the segment of the population that can does, does not, and will not accept the priors of liberal democracy. This applies both to the Reactionary Right and the Revolutionary Left. You can’t go around enforcing the priors of liberal democracy on people without making a mockery of some liberalisms most important tenants like free speech but the illiberal segment of the population can make a hash out of things if they are numerous enough and perceive the liberals as being weak at the moment.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

      You know how you keep repeating that people with consistent ideologies are weird and people who pay attention to politics on a regular basis are weird.

      Sometimes those weird people can be bulwarks of democracy. Sometimes they can be opposed.

      But I wonder if non-ideology creates a strong desire for strongmen. A while ago I saw a political cartoon of Uncle Sam headlocking a Donkey in one arm and an Elephant in another. The caption said “You two kids should knock it out and start working together” or something like that.

      Most people are not interested in ideology. They want practical solutions to what they perceive as problems. Concepts like civil liberty or limited government or the welfare state are too vague and abstract. Hence the desire for a strongman to end partisan bickering and fights.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “They want practical solutions to what they perceive as problems. ”

        Indeed. And they also want someone else to pay for it.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        “Most people are not interested in ideology. They want practical solutions to what they perceive as problems. ”

        And yet the problems that need to be practically solved (as well as the practicality of the solutions) always turn out to be informed by ideology.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    In the United States non-democratic groups have been increasing in size over the last 20 years, and are driven primarily by social rather than economic factors.

    Is there a citation for that claim? I have a really hard time believing that the rise of the reactionary right isn’t driven by neoliberal economic policies: wage stagnation, outsourcing, offshoring, a transition to a “service sector economy”, etc and so on in first world industrial countries; and the obliteration of “traditional ways” by the disruptive insertion of first world “markets” into developing countries.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:

      I found the article convincing but I think social and economic are really hard to separate in the United States.

      A lot of economic discontent is connected to social policy. I.e. the end of white privilege and vague, inchoate, and incorrect feelings that women and minorities are cutting in line.

      But when I hear people like Sarah Palin, it mainly seems to be cultural resentiment and hatred of social change that is fueling authoritarianism. Most of the stuff on the alt-right is social, not economic. Breitbart is 100 percent social as far as I can tell.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Perhaps it’s overdetermined. Interconnected would leave it an open question. Establishing that tilting the economic scales led to, well, Palin, is hard to establish. But causally I’m still committed to economics being the culprit. I mean, even the writer of the article claims that something happened in the last twenty years or so to cause the rightward tilt. Racism, as far as I know, is a pretty static belief. Economics, being dynamic, changes over time. And quite a bit over twenty or thirty years.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:

          Derek Thompson had an interesting in the Atlantic on the Paradox of Free Time:

          http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/the-free-time-paradox-in-america/499826/

          Lots of young men (especially those without college degrees) have lots of free time in the United States. You would expect these guys to be bored but they turn out to be very happy. One theory is that these guys have a lot of free to relativitly free entertainment via TV and video games.

          Gamergate is primarily social because the guys involved don’t seem to want jobs. Perhaps girl gamers are a sign that they should want jobs or something I dunno.

          For middle-aged whites and older, it could be because of a loss of social and economic status. Palin would be in this set.Report

          • Avatar Guy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            Gamergate is primarily social because the guys involved don’t seem to want jobs. Perhaps girl gamers are a sign that they should want jobs or something I dunno.

            Um, what?

            Gamergate is primarily social because it’s unrelated to money. It started as a relationship dispute, and then became a war over who was or was not part of a particular social set, and the semi-related question of who should be part of the same. Critically, everyone involved is in roughly the same economic stratum, or at least assumes they are.Report

  3. I agree with Lee that much of this points to the illiberal problem, but I’m inclined to take his observation in a direction he perhaps does not intend.

    It can be hard to distinguish between the illiberals and the small-d democrats. One flaw in the study, at least as the article reports it, is that there’s no clear definition of what the study means by “having a democratic political system” as opposed to the three other alternatives (strongman, rule by experts, and army rule). To some, “democratic political system” might mean nearly pure majoritarianism, and that’s one recipe for getting “Consuls for Life” and whatnot. For some, “rule by experts” is a way to protect rational process for the good of the people and represents the truer will of “the people” than popular government. Rule by strongman or army can in practice protect the rights and civil liberties of the more vulnerable, which seems to fit snugly with those small-d democrats who eschew simple majoritarianism and use “rights of the individual” as a key metric for defining democracy.

    All things in the world whatsoever can be thus criticized, and I don’t want to rake that article over the coals for not writing the article I would have written or not doing the study I would have done. And the correlations (or mostly lack of correlations) it finds with socio-economic-cultural-educational-regional-racial-gender indicators is indeed interesting.Report

  4. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    As the gov controls more and more (and gives out more and more), it becomes more and more important to make sure “your” guy is at the top.

    “So this is how liberty dies–with thunderous applause.”
    -Padmé AmidalaReport

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

      I never found that philosophy was justified by quoting fictional characters from movies. If anything it undercuts the seriousness of a philosophy. Anyway great way to justify your scope of government as the one true scope.

      One thing the article made clear to me is that respect for democracy respect for the different views of others. In your telling, only a belief in libertarianism can save democracy.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        And yet you stated above that “Most people are not interested in ideology. They want practical solutions to what they perceive as problems. Concepts like civil liberty or limited government or the welfare state are too vague and abstract. Hence the desire for a strongman to end partisan bickering and fights.”

        Most people aren’t going to care who’s in charge or what their “freedom” is when they are hungry, scared, cold, and experiencing lots of instability and violence. They just want it to end. So yeah, that quote is on point. And we now have a society that doesn’t care about “freedom” as long as they are in power-that’s seen in the left and the right, so this isn’t a Dem/Repub/Left/Right issue, it’s a fundamental rot in American society and I have no idea how it will get “fixed”, baring some major crisis like the one below in quotes that Gabriel is going to create in Constantine.

        “I will bring you pain, I will bring you horror…..So that you may rise above it. So that those of you who will survive this reign of hell on earth will be worthy of God’s love.”Report

      • I don’t think Dark Matter is looking to Star Wars to “justify” his philosophy. He’s not saying, “the movie said this, therefore it’s true.” He’s just using it as a succinct way to summarize it [ETA: i.e., his philosophy]. And I’ll say it’s not altogether wrong, either.

        Further, saying that “[a]s the gov controls more and more (and gives out more and more), it becomes more and more important to make sure ‘your’ guy is at the top” does not imply that only libertarianism can save democracy and neither does it imply disrespect for other views. It does point to one of the dangers of expanding the powers of the government. And that danger needs to be addressed even by, or especially by, those who would like to expand those powers.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          I guess that is fair but I’d be comfortable I’d libertarians can have an honest look on why many groups do not want limited government rather than they are wrong-headed. Minimalist government had it’s own favorites.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Oh, we know why. Part of the effort is showing that their “why” has some really bad ends.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              @oscar-gordon

              Yes and no.

              I think the main issues I see here are SSM and civil rights protections for minority. There still seems to be a substantial libertarian and sometimes right-wing bloc that says freedom of association should be before civil rights.

              Fine and dandy but one should be able to see why minorities like civil rights protections that say you can’t deny someone access to a restaurant or business based on their minority status. We had the debate here when discussing bakeries that refuse to make cakes for gay couples.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                Sure, except you can have civil rights equality without a strong authoritarian government. You might not get it quickly, but it can happen.

                The danger of a strong authoritarian government isn’t Jimmy Carter, it’s Donald Trump.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to LeeEsq says:

            @leeesq

            an honest look on why many groups do not want limited government rather than they are wrong-headed.

            In general the growth of government is NOT to protect civil rights or anything similar, it’s just people wanting free stuff and/or “equality” for everyone. The state is effectively God for a lot of people, it’s supposed to fix all problems, even the ones created by the state’s own mismanagement.

            The people who want an unlimited gov do NOT want (or envision) it used against them.

            A President Trump could easily be dysfunctional enough that we turn to someone worse or really test how good the system is at controlling someone like Nixon.

            I get why people want civil rights, law enforcement, etc. The flip side of those are people wanting sex police to ‘control’ gays, prevent abortion, and run the war on drugs.

            IMHO “wrong-headed” is letting someone put together a system which will, sooner or later, be used against you. “Wrong-headed” also includes letting someone break economic systems we depend on via debt, hyperinflation, regulatory capture, etc.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

              Who wants “unlimited government”? Peeps on the liberal side don’t’ want that. They just want more then conservatives do. This does not equal unlimited.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to greginak says:

                @greginak

                Who wants “unlimited government”? Peeps on the liberal side don’t’ want that. They just want more then conservatives do. This does not equal unlimited.

                Not, “more than conservatives do”, just “more”.

                Every new group of “politicians” gets elected on promises of “more” spending, or finds “new” things that the gov “needs” to do. Every dollar of current gov spending is well defended by people who know darn well that they’re screwed if it stops.

                Other than after a war neither side has a clue how, or any desire to, reduce spending on any gov programs.

                Gov spending as a percentage of the GDP is basically a linear line trending up, get rid of military spending and it’s even sharper. In practice, I see no reason to think that long term the gov won’t grow until something BIG stops it.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

                So by your calculation in X number of years government will be 10000% of GDP because it does nothing but go up. Then someday it will be 1000000%. Nonsense. Government spending has been cut many times and by many pols over the last decades. It does not just go up. In any case that wasn’t your claim that L’s want unlimited government. That is a generic strawman tossed out by conservatives. But it has never been true, just a way to fling insults instead of discussing differences.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to greginak says:

                So by your calculation in X number of years government will be 10000% of GDP because it does nothing but go up. Then someday it will be 1000000%.

                Things will break and cause LOTS of pain far before we hit that point.

                Government spending has been cut many times and by many pols over the last decades.

                Washington style “cuts” normally mean “spend less than we planned”, not “spending went down”.

                And the long term trends are really one sided and clear.

                http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3bGnkNeoPxk/SbEbx4MWJrI/AAAAAAAACfA/AIxIVAJ5tTc/s400/Government-Spending-Graph.PNGReport

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

                My original comment was pointing out that liberals do not want an unlimited government. You seem to have dropped that silly claim. So good on that.

                You chart starts in the late 1800’s. Yeah we have more gov. since then: SS, Medicaid/care. Fine by me and most people. Those things and defense are the biggest aspects of fed spending. There is no reason to believe gov spending will go up forever until it, blob like, swallows everything. Make some changes, that is fine and dandy. Many people, on all sides, want to cut various things and have had some successes and failures.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to greginak says:

                My original comment was pointing out that liberals do not want an unlimited government. You seem to have dropped that silly claim. So good on that.

                Limited and unlimited gov seem to be opposite ideals.

                But let’s reverse the question. When does liberalism win? What’s the max amount of gov spending per GDP? What’s the final gov program(s) which need to be in place to consider it a victory, beyond which liberals say “no more”?

                It’s been pointed out that you can’t spend 1000% of the GDP; But short of running out of other people’s money, what stops the growth of gov?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                We already went through this graph a couple of weeks ago, and why it doesn’t show what you claim it shows. At least bring on a new graphReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                We already went through this graph a couple of weeks ago…

                Either I missed that one or it predates me.

                , and why it didn’t show what you claim it shows. At least bring on a new graph

                The increasing gov spending as a percentage of GDP doesn’t show increasing gov spending as a percentage of GDP? You’ve lost me, what are you trying to claim here?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                In one of the daily links threads this same graph was brought up two or three weeks ago to show that the Federal tax burden was currently growing compared to the states one, which it isn’t, except for the spike when GDP dropped in the Great Recession while taxes were more or less constant (actually, went down in dollars for the same reason) (plus the argument was about how the Dems were raising taxes while the graph only shows two of the Obama’s years)

                Besides that spike, the federal tax burden as a percentage of GDP has been quite flat for a couple of decades now

                Given that the Federal government does a lot more than in 1880 (and so do the states) a comparison with 1880 is kind of useless. What should we cut out? Social Security? The Interstates? The Military? Please be specific about what the Federals provide now that we didn’t have in the 1880s and thT you want to cut because it’s nothing more than a giveaway to moochers that vote themselves benefits with other people’s money, or an imposition on your freedom.

                Me, I’m all for cutting down the military to the point we can’t project further away than 100 miles into Canada or Mexico. Who’s with me?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to J_A says:

                The self-proclaimed “fiscal conservatives” can never get specific about spending, because they instantly run into the trip wire of the fact that the biggest spending programs are also the most popular.

                Social Security, Defense/ Homeland Security, Medicare and debt service make up about 75% of all federal spending.

                As I said before, the number of people who really want to cut any of these things can fit in a corner booth at Denny’s. These people just don’t exist.

                So “fiscal conservatives” have to keep things abstract, and zoomed out to the hundred thousand foot level.

                Because ultimately this is a fraudulent argument; the real target of all the fiscal concern is just a tiny sliver of the overall federal pie, like TANF and SNAP.

                No, no one really objects to the budget of the FAA, or the Coast Guard, or the National Parks Service.

                That’s why I say this is a theological argument; it is a moral panic over who gets government support, not the support itself.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Question: How much of the debt service is a result of borrowing to pay for the big stuff vs stuff to service ego or id?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Because money is fungible, the percentage of debt raised to pay big stuff is, in general (*), the same as the percentage of big stuff to total stuff.

                (*) There might be specific appropriations that Congress might have indicated have to be funded only through specific debt issuance (like the War Bonds of yore, or some infrastructure project that might have a specific bond issuance) or, conversely, an appropriation Congress has mandated cannot be funded with debt proceeds (can’t imagine why, perhaps a Republican wanted to maKe a point). Absent those special instructions, all goes to the same general fund.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                How much of the debt service is a result of borrowing to pay for the big stuff vs stuff to service ego or id?

                I would first need to know if the 5 thousand billion dollars being spent on the two foreign wars are being spent to service the ego, or the id.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                @chip-daniels

                Both, depending on who you talk to.

                Even the invasion of Afghanistan, while the most justifiable, was done in large part to satisfy the collective id.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Ever notice how the moral panic of the “decline and fall” set never seems to include “overextension of foreign adventurism”?

                5 thousand billion dollars may be a regrettable expenditure but pales next to the outrage of a woman buying a candy bar on her SNAP card.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                War is a manly endevour. Candy is a weakness. Candy you are not entitled to is a moral failure.

                I can see her reasoningReport

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                One of the many reasons I can’t align to the GOP*. One can not clutch pearls over the extra pennies spent on social services while shoveling truckloads of money into destroying and rebuilding the infrastructure of other nations.

                *Or the DNC for that matter, since they seem just fine whistling the adventurist tune as well, even if they aren’t clutching pearls over spending on the poorReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                The self-proclaimed “fiscal conservatives” can never get specific about spending, because they instantly run into the trip wire of the fact that the biggest spending programs are also the most popular.

                You say that like it’s a good thing. I’d object to new gov programs a lot less if it were possible to kill the old ones, or even to evaluate whether or not they’re doing a good job. But you really can’t, not if you want to get elected.

                Every new program becomes politically untouchable because it’s “needed” by someone who will vote on that issue, and every dollar of new gov spending becomes permanent. Thus gov only grows, but eventually we’ll run out of other people’s money.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Yes, we all agree on this point.

                That if the government keeps finding new wars to engage in, new countries to carpet bomb with pallet loads of hundred dollar bills, we will go broke.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                the federal tax burden as a percentage of GDP has been quite flat for a couple of decades now

                Problems:
                1) Taxes haven’t matched expenditures for quite a while. We really should look at what the gov does with the expectation that it will need to be paid for sooner or later.
                2) The federal gov pushes unfunded mandates on the States/Localities. A full picture of the cost of government needs to look at the full picture, which is local+state+fed.

                Given that the Federal government does a lot more than in 1880 (and so do the states) a comparison with 1880 is kind of useless.

                How about if we started at 1930 (the new deal)? Or 1950 (after the WW2 spike)?

                Further the point I’m making is that the government “does a lot more”, and is always looking for more things to do.

                What should we cut out? Social Security?

                Social Security has been so popular in part because every generation thus far has gotten back more than they’ve put in. It should have always been defined contribution (as should all pensions), any plan that comes down to “future politicians will find the money” is problematic on the face of it.

                http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2013/feb/01/medicare-and-social-security-what-you-paid-what-yo/

                I’d issue education vouchers for students (aka Sweden). I’d replace all social programs, including SS, with raw cash. I’d make it EXPRESSLY clear that there’s one pot of money, which taxes fund it, and that (for example) the seniors voting themselves more means there’s less in there for everyone else.

                Further, it’s worth noting that just because the gov doesn’t do something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t get done, and that a command and control style micromanagement solution which spends other people’s money shouldn’t be the first stick out of the bag for all problems.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

                I guess its a good thing we don’t’ have a command and control micro management system then.

                There are a set of fixes that could fix SS. The SS oversight board lists them every year. It’s not rocket science. Different political pressures have led to nothing being done but the answers are there.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to greginak says:

                There are a set of fixes that could fix SS. The SS oversight board lists them every year. It’s not rocket science. Different political pressures have led to nothing being done but the answers are there.

                Sure. Agreed. Politics prevents this program from being run correctly… but that’s kind of why I question whether this is something we want run by the political system.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

                So you want a King to run it? Politics is how we figure out how to govern ourselves. The program is doing far better then people think.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to greginak says:

                So you want a King to run it? Politics is how we figure out how to govern ourselves. The program is doing far better then people think.

                I don’t see why a 401k needs a “King” to run it.

                My intuition is that the more political meddling we have, the worse it will end up being; whether it’s California’s retirement accounts being used to further “green” agendas or Social Security’s habit of passing it’s full cost onto future taxpayers so current retirees can get back more than they put in.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Dark Matter says:

                A 401K if a hellava lot less then what SS is. SS has a very different goal and does it pretty well. SS is meant to provide a basic safety net into retirement for old folks. 401K’s are to volatile and sensitive to now. It is the strength of SS that it provides a basic income no matter what the economy is doing now.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                @dark-matter

                “1) Taxes haven’t matched expenditures for quite a while. We really should look at what the gov does with the expectation that it will need to be paid for sooner or later.”

                Bloody hell, not again. We went through this very same argument two days ago. No, NO. NONONONONO.

                Countries (and utilities) have infinite asset lives. Countries (and utilities) do not need to pay down the principal of their debts, and don’t. Ever. Is not even something special about countries. Natural monopoly utilities have the same property.

                I took the time to explain why, with examples. If you disagree with my analysis, say so, and present your financial arguments (it’s not a political matter, it’s an accounting/financing issue related to the useful life of revenue generating assets). If you are just going to ignore facts and keep repeating things about which people politely explain that you are mistaken, then talking to you doesn’t generate any light.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

                @j_a

                But there has to be a saturation point, where the amount of government revenue consumed by debt service become unsustainable, asset lifetimes not-withstanding. I can accept that a government can have loans it never pays the principle on, but it can’t just keeping adding more such loans on until the heat death of the universe, essentially financing it’s operation on borrowed cash. At some point, it will hit a danger point where a significant downturn in the economy or spike in interest rates, will put it in danger of not being able to meet the debt service obligation.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Short answer, yes to all of that. You are correct.

                Medium answer: as long as you control the issuance of the currency in which the debt is denominated, you always have the nuclear option of inflating the debt away (issuing do much money that the face value of the principal becomes meaningless and you can pay it with your pocket change)

                Larger answer: Lenders track cash leverage ratios (debt to cash flow generated). In a country it would be debt to tax collections. As long as your ratio is a reasonable number, and your tax burden is reasonable (the USA tax burden is below the median for large economies) so that lenders know there is room to increase taxes in an emergency (like, a war in the Middle East to get rid of a dictator with WMDs) you are in a good track and you can roll over your debts and increase the principal (because with population growth you have more people to pay the same tax burden per capita, so you collect more taxes). If the ratios start to go wrong, lenders start to create problems: interests go up, rollovers become more difficult. There are several feedback loops that give you advanced signals if you are in the wrong track, as long as certain premises are true (*)

                There are cases in which things go wrong, for various reasons. Post WWI Germany, XVII century Spain, Revolutionary France, XXI century Greece. However, the reasons tend to be fairly specific, and you cannot extrapolate from XVII Spain to explain Revolutionary France or Weimar Germany.

                (*) For instance, they were not true in Greece because Greece borrowed in Euros, and the interest rate reflected the general Euromarket risk, and not the comparatively small Greek component. So the market did not reflect the Greece risk until it was clear Greece could not generate enough taxes to service its debt. And of course, it could not print Euros, either (**). Neither of those things are true for the USA.

                (**) The Dracmafication that Varofakis kept pushing for was logistically impossible to pull of in the time available (***). It would have stopped the economy for months, even to get the Dracma notes printed (****)

                (***) Which, of course, is the main risk of Brexit, that cannot be implemented in only two years. Article 50 was a symbolic thing, not something that was supposed to ever be tried.

                (****) At the time of the German reunification the FDR and the Bundesbank took the correct, but painful, decision to convert worthless DDR Marks 1:1 into German Marks, then the strongest currency in the world. Doing otherwise would have destroyed 100% of the Osties wealth. But it meant creating billions of new Marks backed by nothing except the full faith and credit of a non existing DDR (in other words, backed by nothing – the greatest subsidy of the last several decades )Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Well put.

                At the time of the German reunification the FDR and the Bundesbank took the correct, but painful, decision to convert worthless DDR Marks 1:1 into German Marks, then the strongest currency in the world. Doing otherwise would have destroyed 100% of the Osties wealth.

                Wait, why would a 2:1 conversion have been deadly?

                It’s been quite a while but I vaguely recall thinking that was the expected result.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You are right (and I was wrong) that conversions above certain amounts were at the 2:1 rate, and conversions from companies were at 3:1.

                But the DDR Mark was worth nothing. At 100:1 it was still exchanging Monopoly money for real dollars.

                Had the Osries been for d to convert their life savings it the real Exchange rate, they would probably have been able to buy a small coffee thereafter (and Westies could have bought the whole of East Germany for barely nothing.

                Like in Greece, btw, the fixed conversion rate of DDR marks to Deutschemarks made the Ostie industry completely uncompetitive. Their obsolete factories and processes could not produce products as cheap as the West and they could not devaluate to accommodate the productivity differential.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

              Its again an idea of government as a monolith, and the only variable is size.

              But the actual history is that government is almost always too large and too small at the same time.

              Too large as in, brutally enforcing one group’s interest, while too small as in ignoring or dragging its feet on others.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                @chip-daniels

                …the actual history is that government is almost always too large and too small at the same time. Too large as in, brutally enforcing one group’s interest, while too small as in ignoring or dragging its feet on others.

                There are things the gov does well, or that it has to do, and there are things it does poorly.

                Ideally we’d cut the “too large” parts and expand the “too small” parts… but in practice it mostly doesn’t work that way. The “too small” parts are excuses to raise taxes, the “too large” parts are too painful to remove.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Ideally, we would reach agreement on what the overall outcome of governance should be;

                Then we would reach agreement on what things need to be done by government;

                Then we would reach agreement on what sort of powers the government need to do what we have agreed it should do.

                Asserting that “government is too large” assumes all those agreements have been reached.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Asserting that “government is too large” assumes all those agreements have been reached.

                No, it’s simply asserting that we’re past the gov’s marginal rate of return. That the damage done by an extra dollar of government outweighs it’s investment return.

                Let’s say you want the gov to do something it currently doesn’t, and you therefore want taxes to go up.

                My response is, if it’s important, why not redirect current gov spending? Is every dollar the gov current spends really a better investment than what you want? Is raising taxes really the least destructive thing to do to the economy?

                Every dollar in current gov spending shouldn’t be immortal to budget cuts and invulnerable to evaluation of effectiveness.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                But this is just weightless theology.

                The assertion ” the damage done by an extra dollar of government outweighs it’s investment return” doesn’t contain a falsifiable statement of fact, its a creedal statement of faith.

                I call it creedal because in order to arrive there you have to make a lot of leaps of faith regarding the nature of the human person and the relationship to broader society.

                There isn’t even a common point of origin where we can diverge.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                But this is just weightless theology.

                Our long term growth rate has trended down as the gov has consumed more and more of the GDP. We’re now at 2% ish when times are good.

                You look at the long term effects of 2% vs. 5%, and it’s 50 year effects on how rich people will be, and it’s hard to call these “weightless” effects.

                That’s over and above what happens if/when we drive over a fiscal cliff and the bond market steps in.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You’re attempting to hide a theological position of your preferred moral norms behind the curtain of economics.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                You’re attempting to hide a theological position of your preferred moral norms behind the curtain of economics.

                Meaning I’d rather my descendants be a lot richer in 50 years than they will be on our current path. If you want to call that “theological” that’s fine, but I’d rather call it paying attention to the long term costs of some of our policies.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You’re stealing a base or seven when you hinge your argument on the notion that big government has dragged GDP growth down, rather than that it’s harder to grow a developed economy than a developing one.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Don Zeko says:

                You’re stealing a base or seven when you hinge your argument on the notion that big government has dragged GDP growth down, rather than that it’s harder to grow a developed economy than a developing one.

                I claimed 5% because the developing countries can do double digits until they catch up (China’s example), and 5% is what we’ve seen when the USA was the most developed economy.

                That aside, let’s be explicit about what you’re implicitly claiming.

                1) The tax code so complex no human can understand it, that doesn’t cause economic distortions.
                2) These armies of bureaucrats which deal with other armies of bureaucrats, the overhead from them totally doesn’t matter, and there’s no side effects or distortions from just having them.
                3) The war on drugs doesn’t cause any economically problematic side effects. The people it throws into jail would have been drags on the economy anyway (etc).
                4) Moving down on the economic freedom index hasn’t caused any economic side effects.

                Even if we fixed all of these issues (and more I’ll skip), 2% is the best we can do, none of these things cause problems with growth.Report

              • Ideally we’d cut the “too large” parts and expand the “too small” parts…

                What’s the metric? Budget? Personnel? Pages of statute and regulation? I’m not disagreeing with you, and will take a back seat to no one in arguing for government at all levels that’s as simple as feasible to achieve a goal. But as they say, the devil is in the details. The Clean Water Act is simple in principle — limits on the amount of toxic stuff allowed into the fresh water sources. But when industry uses 100,000 different compounds, of varying toxicity, including interactions and accumulations, things get complicated.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Michael Cain says:

                things get complicated.

                A command and control style massive bureaucracy which by it’s nature grows, seeks power, and deliberately makes things complex to justify it’s existence has costs by itself.

                I’m not sure what a good solution is for “the Clean Water Act”, but there is the Welfare example where we could replace dozens of programs attempting to micromanage the poor with just giving everyone money and let people run their own lives.Report

              • That’s the Texas model: the polluters give the pols money, and everyone’s free to do what they want.Report

              • So here’s a fantasy conversation that I have in my head that always goes my way (it is a fantasy after all).

                The person across from me utters some version of Reagan’s “gov’t is not the solution; it’s the problem.” And then I, with perfect diction, respond:

                “Okay. Here’s a $20 bill. Take it. It’s yours. On one condition. I’m going to start naming gov’t programs and if I mention any programs that you actually think we should keep, you owe me $1. Remember, it’s not programs that we need to discuss…it’s programs that you actively want to continue. That you are in favor of. Ready?”

                And then of course I start listing the Army, Navy, Marines, highway depts, police forces, social security, VA benefits, dog catchers, fire departments, parks, sewers, etc. etc. And walk out of the place with about $100.

                The part of the conversation that I look forward to most (excepting the $100) is when I say, “IRS” and the poor slob swears he doesn’t want an IRS, but then I say, “who you gonna send your flat rate post card to, and who investigates the flat rate cheaters? Renaming the agency doesn’t mean there’s no agency.”

                It’s a very satisfying fantasy.Report

              • Avatar rexknobus in reply to Jaybird says:

                I think you missed my point, but thanks forever for introducing me to Noah “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. God, I love this planet!Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

              “Free stuff” sounds too much like a right wing smear from the pages of NRO. Public education, parks, and libraries are not “free stuff”. They are products of a belief that the government should help provide for the education and benefits of all. Access to books or good outdoor space should not be for the rich few. Central Park and Golden Gate Park are wonders for all. So are public libraries.

              Universal healthcare and Unemployment Insurance are not “free stuff”. They are products of the belief that the vagaries of capitalism need to be counter balanced with a safety net and that the humane thing to do is to help the sick and those in need.

              “Free stuff” is just the delegitimization of political beliefs that are not your own.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                @saul-degraw

                “Free stuff” is just the delegitimization of political beliefs that are not your own.

                Then stop selling these programs as being “free”, i.e. paid for by someone else.

                IMHO a flat tax is one of the things which makes sensible evaluation of the gov possible. I.e. if we want universal health care, then let everyone pay for it so that everyone has skin in the game.

                It is deeply corrupting to vote yourself benefits that “someone else” will pay for, whether that person is “the rich”, “future generations”, or “the jews”, and that practice roundly deserves to be called out.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Bullshit on someone else!!

                The overwhelming majority of American children go to public school, public schools are largely funded by taxpayers. People are paying taxes for their own school.

                Same with public parks and libraries. Who is this someone else?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                The overwhelming majority of American children go to public school, public schools are largely funded by taxpayers. People are paying taxes for their own school.

                You’re using as examples local gov (and to a lesser degree state), voted on by local taxpayers.

                When the local schools directly raise taxes for the local schools, that’s accountability (although I’ve noticed they schedule these votes not-in-November). But that’s very far away from how the national (and some states’) budgets work.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                I know more about how the federal budget works that about how the Houston Independent School District budget works. So I call cow husband digestive depositions on local accountability.

                Actually, one of the biggest problems in the USA is that state and local governments are much more opaque and unresponsive than the federal government. With the result that the majority of people claim for federal intervention in almost everything.

                (Plus, education is a good example of something where the economies of scale would recommend a complete federalizations of the process. There is no Texas math or Massachusetts math, nor is there (apologies to Young Earh Crazy People) a Kentucky biology different than a California biology. 99% of what goes on in schools is supposed to be the same everywhere in the country, and most cases of the different 1% are examples of things that don’t help the kids)Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                I know more about how the federal budget works that about how the Houston Independent School District budget works. So I call cow husband digestive depositions on local accountability.

                Local for me means something a lot smaller than that. Our local gov is responsible and works well. There are other choices within driving distance of my job, if the current city fails or gets to expensive I can vote with my feet.

                Actually, one of the biggest problems in the USA is that state and local governments are much more opaque and unresponsive than the federal government. With the result that the majority of people claim for federal intervention in almost everything.

                So the solution to dysfunctional, overly large government is more government?

                (Plus, education is a good example of something where the economies of scale would recommend a complete federalizations of the process. There is no Texas math or Massachusetts math, nor is there (apologies to Young Earh Crazy People) a Kentucky biology different than a California biology. 99% of what goes on in schools is supposed to be the same everywhere in the country, and most cases of the different 1% are examples of things that don’t help the kids)

                Sounds like you’d get diseconomies of scale. I’ve needed to step in three times with the local school administration. Twice they did the right thing, once they refused.

                So I pulled my kids and put them into the local charter. State money follows the kids, two years latter the public schools and I had the same conversation and this time they “had room” in the school I wanted to put the kids into.

                Competition is WONDERFUL at forcing unresponsive monopolies to be responsive. Empowering local parents to do what’s best for their kids sounds a lot more like a ticket for success than a government run monopoly where the people running it don’t suffer if they fail your kids.Report

          • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

            I’d accept a tit for tat on that:

            One side acknowledges why people can legitimately believe it’s a good thing to expand government power at least sometimes and the other side acknowledges that there are real dangers from expanding that power. How to balance the two? Well, it’s complicated.Report

        • I am nostalgic for low-impact elections like 1860 and 1932. 2000 seemed to be one — who knew we were voting on whether to invade Iraq?Report

          • I…..don’t follow you….I wasn’t saying anything about low-impact elections or nostalgia.Report

            • It goes to the statement “As the gov controls more and more (and gives out more and more), it becomes more and more important to make sure “your” guy is at the top”, and how back in the Madisonian days before the murderer of state’s rights Lincoln and the socialist FDR, presidential elections had no consequences at all.Report

              • To say that “it becomes more and more important to make sure ‘your’ guy is at the top” doesn’t mean that it’s never important otherwise that “your” guy is at the top, just that it’s “more important” because more is at stake.

                Still, thanks for explaining what you meant.Report

              • More is at stake now than in 1860?

                If you say so 🙂Report

              • No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that all other things being equal, more is at stake if the government is already powerful. Now, all other things are never equal. So I’m prepared to say more was at stake in 1860.Report

              • Or let’s move the needle a little bit and look at Reconstruction. After the Civil War amendments and after the Congressional Reconstruction and Civil Rights Acts, the federal government had formally and practically more power than before. At that time, it was much more important who controlled the federal government than it would have been without those enactments.

                Note that I’m not necessarily saying this was necessarily a bad thing. The stakes were higher because persons’ civil rights and the means to enforce and realize those rights were at stake in a way they hadn’t been before. Can that also be a bad thing? People who decry what they see as the rise of federal level “substantive due process” jurisprudence seem to think so.

                I fear that perhaps I’m motte-and-bailying this a bit. I want to be clear I do believe that relying on “more power = higher stakes,” to the exclusion of other rubrics, is reductionist.Report

              • Or, to beat a dead horse that isn’t getting any deader, I can also think of a counterargument to the principle I claim to be defending, that as the power of government increases, so do the stakes. And your 1860 example is illustrative.

                On the one hand, you could say that by 1860 the federal government in some ways had asserted heretofore unprecedented power in the guise of the Dred Scott decision, which some free soilers and abolitionists interpreted as auguring the nationalization of slavery by paving the way for future decisions that would forbid states to ban slavery. You could also say that the recent (ca. 1848) acquisition of territory increased the power of the federal government because there were more lands directly under federal jurisdiction. Those points and others seem to support the (more government = higher stakes.”

                On the other hand, you could just as well argue that one of main reasons 1860 was so important was that the power of the federal government to regulate slavery in certain instances was now more contested than it had been before. Dred Scott, among other things, declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional, which seemed to challenge the feds’ authority to ban slavery in the territories.

                So yeah, I guess the “more government = more stakes” dictum isn’t wholly defensible. I still think the idea should enter into any discussion of expanding the power of the state, however.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                On the third hand, we are using “government” as shorthand for FEDERAL government, and that is probably incorrect, or at least unhelpful.

                No one ever disputed, before the Civil War amendments, the power the states had over their population, and the limited recourse the population had against the states (the Bill of Rights did not guarantee you wouldn’t be discriminated against at the state level if you were of an unpopular religion, like a Catholic.

                If anything, the Civil War Amendments resulted in more Federal government power, less state government power, and a net reduction of power over the people. Since I belong to the people category, I don’t care if I’m subject to federal of state government power. In principle I’d rather be subject to less power.

                And I’m on record believing that the Federal government is more responsive to the people at large that the states governments, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the shift of federal/state power balanceReport

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to J_A says:

                …believing that the Federal government is more responsive to the people at large that the states governments…

                That’s right, you don’t live in a ballot initiative state. Here, with the vote-by-mail ballots being delivered in four weeks, we’re into the final pre-election push. TV ads for the candidates are pretty few and far between. Far more ads for/against some of the ballot initiatives.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Michael Cain says:

                That’s true, but I live in a state where mortgages are up there with marriage in having their own voted on amendment to the state constitution.

                Is it really better to have fifty ways to deal with mortgages? Or it’s just making governance in an otherwise fully interconnected country more cumbersome and expensive than needs to be?Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to J_A says:

                On the third hand, we are using “government” as shorthand for FEDERAL government, and that is probably incorrect, or at least unhelpful.

                Agreed. I was thinking of federal and not state, and both need to be considered.

                No one ever disputed, before the Civil War amendments, the power the states had over their population, and the limited recourse the population had against the states (the Bill of Rights did not guarantee you wouldn’t be discriminated against at the state level if you were of an unpopular religion, like a Catholic.

                I get what you mean. But most (all?) states had bills of rights and people within those states disputed the power the states had over their population all the time. And while there was little in the federal Constitution and in pre-CW amendment federal jurisdiction, there were some limitations on what states could do to their own populations. States couldn’t impair the obligations of contracts, for example. And the Dred Scott decision, if read in a certain way, could have served as precedent barring slaves from forbidding slavery.

                But again, I see what you’re mean, and you’re right. The pre-Civil War states’ police power was generally assumed to be plenary.

                If anything, the Civil War Amendments resulted in more Federal government power, less state government power,

                Over the long run, you’re probably right, or at least I wouldn’t want to argue against it.

                and a net reduction of power over the people.

                I’m not so sure about that, even over the long run. I guess it depends on who the person is and what activity they’re engaged in.

                Since I belong to the people category, I don’t care if I’m subject to federal of state government power. In principle I’d rather be subject to less power.

                I can’t really argue with that.

                And I’m on record believing that the Federal government is more responsive to the people at large that the states governments, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the shift of federal/state power balance

                I’m not perfectly comfortable with the shift, but I get what you mean. As to what type of government is more responsive, I guess it depends. I’ll bring back the bugbear of substantive due process that allegedly was one doctrine the federal courts overturned legislation that helped workers. (I say “allegedly” because I understand that some dispute the claim that there ever was such a doctrine.) I also don’t think it’s out of bounds to bring in federal government efforts like the military draft or the war on drugs and mandatory minimums.

                As I said above, as to whether the shift from state to federal is overall good, I guess it depends on who the person is and what activity they’re engaged in. I’ll say further that it depends on what aspects of the shift we’re talking about. The military industrial complex….not so good in my opinion. Social Security….mostly good, but perhaps with some fatally costly kinks that need to be resolved. Obamacare….I support it but am uncomfortable adopting a reading of the constitution that requires citizens to buy a product from a private company. The Defense of Marriage Act….I oppose it and thankfully it’s gone.Report

              • Over the long run, you’re probably right, or at least I wouldn’t want to argue against it.

                Actually, maybe I will push back on it a little bit. The Federal war on drugs involves large grants to local law enforcement to incentivize them to prosecute the war. Or so I’ve heard (I haven’t any real evidence).

                Another example–and this may sound trivial in the grand scheme of things–I understand that during the Vietnam War, some states required draftable people to carry their draft cards with them as a form of I.D. Like my first example, this is something I don’t have strong evidence for, but I’ve heard and seen incidental examples in research I’ve done.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                On the first hand, I appreciate the engagement and the comment

                On the second hand, let me clarify a bit my federal vs state preference (irrespective that tha federal government can do plenty of crazy stuff, like the War on Drugs, that affect substantially more people.

                My problem is more high level. When the Constitution was enacted it made sort of sense to imagine thirteen almost independent countries transferring some limited powers (defense, currency, and foreign relations mainly) to a federal structure (*). The states themselves were big, comparable in size with European countries, and communications were such that it was expected the vast majority of people would never be involved in any way with a different state.

                That picture started to unravel almost immediately. Steam power made communications faster than could have ever been thought. The Florida and Louisiana purchases more than doubled the size of the country. More important, immigrants, started coming to The United States, and not to Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Georgia.

                The result was that the peoples of thirteen original countries started moving around, new “countries” kept being added, and the huddled masses started crossing the Atlantic (on steam ships) with little concern about whether they landed in this or that state, and why laws and customs should be different.

                The modern age required a unification and standardization of the nation. E Pluribus Unum and all that. Today is what we as citizens expect. Having fifty different rules about mortgages, or what is and is not covered by insurance, or what should or should not be recycled just creates confusion in a mobile population that thought the rules they grew up in Ohio will apply in Texas.

                Insofar as different state laws and regulations exist, they don’t really contribute to making the economy work better, or people’s life easier. It only helps those that can game, as I say in another place, one rule book against the other.

                On the third hand, I believe federalism makes sense in cases like Quebec, or the Spanish Autonomies, were different regions have a different history, language and ethnic background. I don’t believe the different states (**) meet that threshold

                (*) Defense of course was minimal at the time because, at the end of the day, all potential enemies were across the ocean. The USA was more populated than Canada, and would have won any eventual Northern War, Washington in flames notwithstanding.

                (**) Except perhaps Alaska and Hawaii, and, in the future, Puerto RicoReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                The modern age required a unification and standardization of the nation. E Pluribus Unum and all that. Today is what we as citizens expect. Having fifty different rules about mortgages, or what is and is not covered by insurance, or what should or should not be recycled just creates confusion in a mobile population that thought the rules they grew up in Ohio will apply in Texas.

                Yes and no. I get what you’re saying, but imho a lot is gained by forcing the states to compete with each other. Tax too much, regulate too much, and you lose population and/or jobs.

                We are probably going to see various states fail because of corruption and/or simple bad policy. Illinois comes to mind.

                That’s over and above the whole ‘tyranny of the majority’ thing. A one size fits all approach to policy probably results in bad things for whoever is a minority (likely rural or more-wild-than-rural countryside).Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “Tax too much, regulate too much, and you lose population and/or jobs.”

                Cow husband digestive depositions

                Kansas wants its memes backReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                DarkMatter: “Tax too much, regulate too much, and you lose population and/or jobs.”

                J_A: Kansas wants its memes back

                You’ve never heard of anyone moving away from New York (etc) because of the cost of living?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Cost of living? Yes. NYC and suburbs are very expensive places to live.

                Taxes? No.

                I’ve also never heard of anyone saying they are moving to KS because they want to live a low state tax existence.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to J_A says:

                No, but I hear a lot of people saying they are moving out of the city (not nyc, but cities near me) because of the taxes, and I hear about them moving farther out from the cities to cheaper suburbs.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Damon says:

                I wonder if they factored in the cost of gas and their commute driving in that decision? Having said that, it makes all the sense in the world to work in NYC and live in NJ.

                But that’s optimizing at the margins. All you are doing is reducing your cost of living. NYC is still the place you want to be around. If you can still do it and save a couple of grand in taxes that’s great. But notice that moving into a rent controlled apartment would save you more money than moving to NJ. So, it’s not really about “taxes”. It’s total revenues you make there, it’s the total cost of living there, and the quality of life there. That’s what would make you move around.

                I still don’t get the “let’s uproot from Manhattan and go to Kansas. Have you seen the low taxes there (*)?” Fixating on taxes alone as if that was THE BIG driver sounds like a meme to me. And the intentions of meme creators rarely include having your best interests in mind.

                (*) You know who really appreciates Kansas having low taxes? Billionaires living in Omaha. Do you know any? Coincidence? Inquiring minds would like to know.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to J_A says:

                You make a good point. Hell, I wouldn’t want to live in Kansas unless I was loaded, and then I’d likely choose Montana or Colorado or similar. I practice a similar type of scenario. I live outside the highest cost county in my state but work in it. I get the benefits of the higher wages and live on the other side of the wage line. I also knew folks who lived in West Virginia and commuted to DC. It’s never “just property taxes”. It’s income taxes, cost of living, crime, quality of life, cost of housing, commute, etc.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

                People always miss the downsides of living with the bottomfeeders.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kimmi says:

                Nah, it’s just “ease of exit”. Where I live now, I’m <30 min from the airport, 5 mins from main highways. I can be in all kinds of places in no time. I'm willing to pay for that convenience.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

                The thing about the folks who aren’t you, who move there to have cheap taxes, is that the instant they see something that even smells like high taxes (um, like poorer black people moving in — this is NOT a hypothetical), they’re gonna leap somewhere else.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

                I’m five minutes from main highways (a bit farther from the airport, but that’s 30miles out of the city — we regularly get homeland security stopping deerhunters on airport land).Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Damon says:

                Texas doesn’t have state taxes but makes it up with very high property taxes.

                I could save probably two to three thousand a year (about 50% of the total) if I moved to a Houston suburb like Katy. I could move to a bigger house. Have a media room. Yuuupppy!

                That would add about. 1 1/2 hours daily to my commute and about 10 gallons of gas per week. At $2 per gallon that’s 20 dollars a week, 1,000 per year. Add my significant other’s similar commute, and, bam, we are 2,000 dollars worse than before the move. And we’ve lost 7 1/2 hours a week each. That’s like one extra day of work for, at best, 1,000 dollars a year (per household); at worst, for nothing.

                Hence I’m not saving on my taxes.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to J_A says:

                Billionaires living in Omaha? Well, there’s always the Oracle of Omaha…Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Kimmi says:

                Fish, I meant Wichita. Billionaires in Wichita, KS ?

                Though I’m sure billionaires in Omaha also appreciate the low tax environment.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to J_A says:

                I don’t think most people say “taxes here are too high and regulations too onerous, I’m going to move to a low-tax/differently regulated* state.” However, the conditions that compel people to move away may have something to do with the tax system and system of regulations and the reasons that pull people to another place may be in part the result of the tax and regulation system in place.

                *We (the royal we) tend to draw a too stark dichotomy between “regulation” and “non-regulation.” I think it’s better to see things as “regulated in one way” and “regulated in another way.”Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Working age people move mostly for Joe opportunities, be it Starbucks baristas, house builders, air stewardesses, nurses and doctors, lawyers or stockbrokers.

                There’s very little to no correlation between state taxes, state regulations, and job opportunities. Actually, most jobs are located in high taxes/high regulations blue enclaves, even in red states (high property taxes Houston is the fastest growing city in the USA, AFAIK) so working age people are mostly moving into high tax areas

                Retired people move for two reasons: weather; and to reduce their cost of living given mostly fixed incomes. Not being tied to a job, they are the ones for which reducing taxes is a criteria. Those are the ones that would leave Houston for lower taxes Louisiana.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to J_A says:

                I don’t know about the facts of the matter, whether job opportunities really are in high tax areas or not, though I would want to look at job growth and not just number of jobs. I do believe the level and kinds of taxation and the kind of regulation do affect the number of job opportunities in an important way.

                Of course, it’s probably much more complicated than simply “more taxes = fewer jobs.” In fact, both what counts as a tax and what taxes pay for probably have an effect. If they go to a big investment in mass transit, that might be a pull factor because it might make more jobs available.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Of course, it’s probably much more complicated than simply “more taxes = fewer jobs.”

                Absolutely. Taxes become services, infrastructure, etc, some are highly beneficial.

                Reduce the size of government down to zero and you’re looking at places where murder is legal, and there is no power, or roads, or contract enforcement. A government which prevents murder, enforces contracts, and builds roads is highly useful and necessary for certain levels of industry.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to J_A says:

                JA,
                Austin and Pittsburgh have high property taxes.
                http://www.city-data.com/forum/houston/527334-property-tax-rate.html
                Houston’s are less than their suburbs??Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Kimmi says:

                Houston’s are higher than the suburbs in terms of the applicable rate.

                And Houston’s real state is -in average- valued higher than the suburbs. Prices are very sensitive to how close you are to the inner loop (the 610 Loop). I live one mile outside the 610, in a prime location, commute wise.

                I could pay half what I pay now in property taxes by moving 30 miles away. And the additional gas costs would wipe almost all of the savings.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Cost of living? Yes. NYC and suburbs are very expensive places to live. Taxes? No.

                A lot of “cost of living” is the effects of taxe and regulations. When you pay for a sandwich you’re also paying for the vendor’s taxes and overhead, everything that makes his life expensive is passed on to you.

                I still don’t get the “let’s uproot from Manhattan and go to Kansas. Have you seen the low taxes there (*)?”

                I could increase my income a LOT if I moved to New York or Chicago, occasionally I have job offers. However after taxes and cost of living, I expect I’d be poorer. I’d also have to live in far worse housing, and have a far worse commute as well.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                We are probably going to see various states fail because of corruption and/or simple bad policy

                I wonder…How do we know when a state has failed?

                Do the folks in Mississippi say, “whoa, dude,at least we’re not them!”?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I wonder…How do we know when a state has failed?

                My personal measure is when the budget breaks and the bond market understand there’s no money to be made loaning them money.

                Alternatively we could have enough civil unrest (or war, or natural disaster) that the state loses its monopoly on violence… but that’s unlikely at a state level because the feds would step in.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Several states (don’t knew the list) have constitutional balanced budget provisions. Their budget can’t “break”.

                Like the country as a whole, the states can also raise their taxes. And the tax burden, even in horrible, corrupt Ilinois, isn’t that high that there is no more room. Chicago is not 1789 Paris.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Several states (don’t knew the list) have constitutional balanced budget provisions.

                It’s basically everyone but Vermont. http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2010/dec/25/john-cornyn/sen-john-cornyn-says-49-states-have-balanced-budge/

                Like the country as a whole, the states can also raise their taxes. And the tax burden, even in horrible, corrupt Ilinois, isn’t that high that there is no more room. Chicago is not 1789 Paris.

                Chicago’s problem isn’t that it’s under taxed.

                Even if we make the assumption that a really big tax increase will solve everyone’s problems, IMHO it’d be a short term fix. Programs would continue to grow, politicians would continue to get elected promising to hand out free stuff, and long term we’d be back in this mess where the government has outstripped it’s revenues.

                Their budget can’t “break”.

                I suspect we’re going to test that. Hopefully a few states will break and provide an abject lesson to the rest on what not to do, and after that voters will understand that there are long term issues with “free” things (be they tax cuts or hand outs by the gov).

                One of the problems is we’re at the bottom of an interest rate super-cycle, multiple generations of politicians and business leaders have come to power thinking that interest rates can only go down, debt can only get cheaper. In that context, it makes sense to take on debt to “invest” or hand out good things to your supporters.

                Return interest rates to their historical averages and lots of places will discover debt isn’t free and they have real problems.Report

              • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to J_A says:

                Thanks for answering. I differ a little with you on the origin story. I probably am more optimistic than you about the good/bad of 50 different laws on mortgages and insurance regulations. Not completely optimistic. It depends on which insurance we’re talking about. I agree with you the state laws are ways for some actors to game the system in its favor. So we have that, but we also have states playing a big role in securing same sex marriage nationally, a role that’s less possible under a more unitary system. And standardization can be done wrong, in a way that works for Illinois but not Colorado. Or if not wrong, then in a heavy-handed way that works better one place than another.

                I’ll have to think more about your “third hand.” To me that kind of federalism seems to ensconce the very type of particularism the erosion of which is one of the better arguments for the type of standardization (I believe) you’re arguing for. I’m not saying I disagree, but I need to think on it more.

                I also believe some very local laws are called for that ought not be standardized nationally, such as speed limits. (I don’t think you’re really saying otherwise. A unitary, non-federal system allows for subsidiarity, too.)Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Thanks again

                Honest to Cthulthu, I still can’t imagine what substantial differences are there between Colorado and Illinois that would justify different insurance or mortgage regulations. I can see specialty ski resort mortgages in CO that you wouldn’t have in IL (which would be similar in Utah, New England or upstate New York) . I don’t see a difference between Denver mortgages and Chicago mortgages (*), though.

                (*) I pick on mortgages because Texas has decided that mortgages are worthy of being a constitutional matter (Article XVI, Section 50(a)(6), of the Texas Constitution). We don’t want no Colorado mortgages here.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Now days we think of slavery from a civil rights point of view. However from the South’s point of view, slavery was also an economic issue. What the federal gov wanted to do (i.e. end slavery) would have destroyed huge amounts of the South’s economic “assets”, and upended every company large enough to have slaves.

                The economic importance of who controls the gov isn’t just “taxes” or even “size of gov”, it’s also the gov’s other influences on the economy. The government telling you what you can and can’t do with your property and what jobs you can have is up there with direct taxation and direct spending.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Are you really defending slavery?

                Do you know that your lovely economics got the nickname “the dismal science” because Thomas Carlyle was incensed that the Adam Smith crowd was going against slavery?

                The whole “Free Labor. Free People. Free Speech” cry of the Republican Party was from the belief that labor should not have to compete against slavery.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                It’s sad when people run out of arguments and have to recourse to “slavery abolition was expropriation without fair compensation”Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                It’s sad when people run out of arguments and have to recourse to “slavery abolition was expropriation without fair compensation”

                By modern standards, every single slave owner could, and should, have been arrested and imprisoned. Further there’s a really strong claim that Slavery seriously impeded the South’s economy, lowered productivity, misallocated resources, that sort of thing.

                But from the standpoint of the South itself, with an economy built around slavery, the end of slavery would have been seen as the end of the economy. Think of it as a one-factory town after that one factory closes down.

                That’s not an argument for slavery, it’s pointing out that the economic/social impact of the federal government was so great that when the other guy won the election, the South went to war.

                So yes, more and more power to the gov increases the stakes of the elections.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Dark Matter says:

                And it doesn’t occur to you that the greater morality would be ending slavery even if a few Southern planters could make “economic” (but really social) arguments in favor of it.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                And it doesn’t occur to you that the greater morality would be ending slavery even if a few Southern planters could make “economic” (but really social) arguments in favor of it.

                I’m not supporting slavery, you’re just pretending I am so you have a straw man to argue against.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Dark Matter says:

                I think you’ve proven the opposite, though. Even if the Libertarian Party were to win 80% of the vote for the next three elections and dismantle every aspect of the Federal government they want to dismantle, it would still be possible for liberals to win elections and build the whole edifice back up. So long as big government is theoretically possible, even by your own terms every election has big consequences because it will always be possible for the government to act in big ways.

                Look at 1860, your chosen example. The federal government had not taken away anybody’s slaves in 1860. It hadn’t banned slavery in the territories. In fact, the federal government, up until that point, had exercised its authority to enforce the draconian and unpopular Fugitive Slave Act in the North, had abandoned the Missouri Compromise so as to potentially allow slavery in territories that had previously been free, and had just ruled in Dred Scott that the constitution forbade the emancipation of slaves as a taking without compensation. In short, the Feds had taken no actual steps to abolish slavery and had exerted considerable power to preserve and extend the institution. But the South rebelled anyway, because if an abolitionist party could win national elections consistently, none of that mattered. And just as abolitionism was a genie that couldn’t be put back in the bottle then, the welfare state is a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle now.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Don Zeko says:

                So long as big government is theoretically possible, even by your own terms every election has big consequences because it will always be possible for the government to act in big ways.

                The potential is certainly there, the president has the ability to nuke the planet, he and congress could outlaw cars to fight global warming. However most elections are about incremental change, not massive reorganizations.

                In short, the Feds had taken no actual steps to abolish slavery and had exerted considerable power to preserve and extend the institution. But the South rebelled anyway, because if an abolitionist party could win national elections consistently, none of that mattered.

                Sure. Agreed with all of that.

                just as abolitionism was a genie that couldn’t be put back in the bottle then, the welfare state is a genie that can’t be put back in the bottle now.

                The moral case for ending slavery is so extreme that it justified burning down the South’s economy and making them start over.

                The moral case for the welfare state isn’t that extreme. Either we figure out a way limit these programs to what we can pay, or lots of people will get hurt when they run out of money and/or break the budget.

                “Breaking the budget” includes “needing to raise taxes above what is politically possible”.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “Breaking the budget” includes “needing to raise taxes above what is politically possible”.

                Well, what they do is borrow or spend, and then claim that they’ll have to cut schools/police/fire/etc. if they don’t get a tax hike.

                In that vein, I wonder two things:

                1) I wonder how often such tactics succeed locally and where?
                2) @j_a claims regarding us having a low tax burden aside[1], the success of such tactics, and the voting results (how close was the approval/rejection of a tax hike) would serve as a good indicator as to how much the population is willing to tolerate additional taxes.

                [1] The US could be the lowest taxed country anywhere, but that is not an argument to raise taxes. Taxes should be where the population wants them to be. It doesn’t matter how much ‘capacity’ a population has to pay taxes, if they don’t want to, or they don’t trust their government to give them sufficient value for the taxes collected, then they shouldn’t be scolded for having low taxes. If folks in the UK feel that they get good services for their tax money, then they are probably fine paying more. If they are unhappy with it, and their government is not responsive to their concerns, then that can be a problem.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                @oscar-gordon

                Taxes is nothing more than the price of the stuff you want the government to provide.

                I find that the USA has inverted the discussion about government and taxes by not asking “What do you want the government to do?”, and, when getting the public’s answer, setting the taxes taxes required to pay for those things. If the people now finds the taxes too high, then politicians in other places ask the people “what do you want to cut” (*)

                Instead politicians in USA ask a different question (and you just did, too, @oscar-gordon ): “How much do you want to pay in taxes?” The obvious answer is, of course, “None”.. But there’s never a discussion about what to cut,, so, either nothing is cut and the balance is borrowed, or people are surprised by cuts that no one had put in their campaign platforms.

                (*) Or they propose the services’ cuts in their campaign platforms, and votes select which services cuts they prefer.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                I find that the USA has inverted the discussion about government and taxes by not asking “What do you want the government to do?”, and, when getting the public’s answer, setting the taxes taxes required to pay for those things.

                One issue is the gov comes back year after year for exponentially more taxes to deal with the same problem. Because of that, there is a massive disconnect between the publics support (desire) for programs and it’s support for the tax increases needed to fully fund them.

                IMHO it is very fair to say “do what you can with a limited budget”, these programs really need to be structured to tolerate that and put on budgets. If they need more money, let Congress approve it and raise the needed taxes to pay for it.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “IMHO it is very fair to say “do what you can with a limited budget”, these programs really need to be structured to tolerate that and put on budgets.”

                Do I get to chose? Very well, let’s get completely rid of the USA Armed Forces

                “Well, not that”

                Very well, let’s off public education completely.

                “Well, not that, either”

                So what?

                “Get rid of fraud, waste, and grants for street art”

                Do what you can with a budget is not a serious proposition. Tax cutters should have the courage of their convictions, and clearly propose, not what taxs they want to tax, but what programs they want to cut.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to J_A says:

                “Get rid of fraud, waste, and grants for street art”

                Which, as we all know, comprise some 80% of the federal budget, with the rest going to foreign aid to our hated enemies.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

                This is why arguing about the federal budget is a waste absent serious federal policy revisions.

                Better to focus on state & local budget issues, where one can have more impact. Especially since most services are provided by local government.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Do I get to chose? Very well, let’s get completely rid of the USA Armed Forces “Well, not that”

                Very good. That is EXACTLY the conversation we need to have, and the best way to have it is to put the big programs on budgets.

                Then there would be a political cost to not funding them (i.e. to not raising taxes), and there’d also be a political cost to funding them by raising taxes.

                At the moment we’re trying to pass the costs on to future taxpayers, and sooner or later we’ll run out of other people’s money.Report

              • exponentially more taxes

                I’m not so sure about that. A brief search through the net of a billion lies gives me a bunch of charts that don’t seem to show any sort of exponential growth over the last 100 years. What are the parameters you’re using to claim exponential growth?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to David Parsons says:

                David Parsons: I’m not so sure about that.A brief search through the net of a billion lies gives me a bunch of charts that don’t seem to show any sort of exponential growth over the last 100 years. What are the parameters you’re using to claim exponential growth?

                Those charts are gov spending as a whole, on a time frame where cuts in military spending have hidden the costs of these programs. Money is fungible, the programs were originally small and military spending originally large.

                If you look at military spending as a percentage of GDP over that time frame you’ll see a linear line trending down with a few blips up for various wars.

                If you track these programs individually you’ll see blips up when the seniors have voted themselves higher benefits (most recently the drug benefit), but even absent that they consistently grow a few percentage points over inflation, for decades, the very definition of exponential growth.

                https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Medicare_2-1.pngReport

              • where cuts in military spending have hidden the costs of these programs

                Uh, that’s not actually true.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to David Parsons says:

                Dark Matter: where cuts in military spending have hidden the costs of these programs

                David Parsons: Uh, that’s not actually true.

                In “Washington-speak” ‘cut’ means ‘don’t increase as fast’.

                The best but not the easiest to read. Shows Military spending as a percentage of GDP.
                http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/spending_chart_1900_2020USp_17s2li011lcn_30f_20th_Century_Defense_Spending

                Defense spending as a percentage of federal
                http://www.heritage.org/~/media/images/reports/2011/11/defending%20defense/chart2.ashx?w=543&h=333&as=1

                Entitlements vs. Military spending as a gov percentage.
                http://www.heritage.org/~/media/images/reports/2012/10/sr121/srfedspendingnumbers2012p12chart1.ashx?w=600&h=531&as=1Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Keeping nominal spending level over time absolutely is a cut in a country with a growing population and a positive inflation rate.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Keeping nominal spending level over time absolutely is a cut in a country with a growing population and a positive inflation rate.

                real GDP already adjusts for inflation.

                You have a point about population but only about 20% of one.

                US population roughly doubled between 1940 and 2000, but GDP roughly increased by a factor of 5. So population growth accounts for roughly 20% (ish).

                And that assumes no efficiency gains in running the program due to experience (which various industries actually count on).Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                In all your graphs defense spending is going down after the end of the Iraq War, and, even counting the Iraq War, it’s been lower since the 1990s that where it was in the Cold War Era (the Peace Dividend). So I’m not sure (again) what’s your argumentReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                The point was the growth in these social programs has been partly hidden by the decrease in the military. Their growth as a percentage of GDP has always been problematic.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

                @j_a

                That’s a good point, although US politicians always seem offended when constituents want to discuss budgets. Administrators are usually good about this, but politicians seem allergic to the topic except in broad terms.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                That’s a big difference between USA and European politics. Budgets are probably the most debated -and examined- part of the political process, with the presence, absence, or specific level of certain line items subject to public discussion, talk shows, and news coverage.

                Politicians are expected to be very detailed in their platforms about what they will put in their budgets (*)

                (*) of course, in parliamentary democracies the executive controls what goes in the budget, so the process is more transparent. The prime minister cannot claim that it’s up to Parliament, and they can’t do anything about it.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @saul-degraw
        Lucas’ work drew heavily from the fall of Roman (and other) Democracies and should be viewed as a summation of histories various warnings.

        One danger of the all powerful state is ‘bread + circuses’ where the people vote themselves benefits until the credit cards break. Alternatively we could have a fiscal problem which breaks the state, normally of the state’s own making. In Lucas’ example the state doesn’t function because various interests have engaged in regulatory capture. The more people who depend on the state, the more of a problem it’s lack of functioning is.

        Then a strong man emerges to ‘fix’ things. The strong man is able to get more power by causing more problems. Roman Republic becomes the Roman Empire. Germany the failed state gets Hitler. Serbia gets Slobodan Milsevic. Zimbabwe gets their leader, etc.

        Alternatively, another danger is where groups know darn well that they’re going to be abused by the state if the wrong guy is in charge so they hold a civil war to see who gets to do that.

        Modern day Iraq probably fits that description, but Egypt and Sudan probably do too.

        The state, even the modern state, is not intrinsically a force for good, it’s just a massive multiplier. A good state can deal with big problems, a bad state is a genocidal nightmare, the difference between them can be a decade or two.

        One thing the article made clear to me is that respect for democracy respect for the different views of others. In your telling, only a belief in libertarianism can save democracy.

        People who are attracted to power are often people who shouldn’t have it.

        Somehow I doubt the Dems using the IRS against the GOP showed ‘respect for the different views of others’.

        Sooner or later, Trump or someone much worse than him will be in charge.Report

        • Avatar Brent F in reply to Dark Matter says:

          I hear this democratic bankruptcy theory relatively frequently from right-wing types, but almost no actual historical examples to back it up. It seems more like an a priori assumption about how democracies behave rather than a theory backed up with empirical evidence. I can’t think of a single, stable long-running democracy that has actually fallen into autocracy due to debt from buying public benefits (Greece is a young democracy that was never all that stable, and hasn’t fallen yet).

          A cursory look at history actually seems to support an alternative theory. Over the long-run, more democratic governments tend to become increasingly fiscally stable and develop excellent credit ratings on that basis. The United States is an excellent example of that, a very old democratic goverment has such a solid track record of relative fiscal prudency and avoiding bankruptcy (far better than anything in the private sector over two centuries) that they can easily raise vast sums of money at extremely favourable rates.

          Similarly, more democratic Great Britain was far more fiscally prudent than autocratic France in the early modern period and thus had the immense advantage of borrowing money at much lower rates and didn’t face the bankruptcy of the ancient regime.

          Classical Rome really wasn’t much of a democracy in the first place and the idea it fell into dictatorship due to the populace wanting to vote themselves public benefits until state bankruptcy was on the horizon is so ahistorical to be comedy. Bread and circuses didn’t end the rule of the Senate, to suggest it did is ignorant nonsense.

          Similarly, the Greek democracies didn’t fall due to public benefit recklessness. Athens for example, first ran into trouble due to foreign policy adventures then later fell to a much larger polity it couldn’t compete with.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Brent F says:

            It seems more like an a priori assumption about how democracies behave rather than a theory backed up with empirical evidence. I can’t think of a single, stable long-running democracy that has actually fallen into autocracy due to debt from buying public benefits (Greece is a young democracy that was never all that stable, and hasn’t fallen yet).

            Public benefits seem to be the backdrop, a stressor (or maybe symptom) of the system rather than the “cause” per say.

            Greece’s problems seem to be that there’s been this massive social contest over control over the government. Business has used it to kill other businesses, the ‘people’ have used it to give themselves benefits, politicians have used it to get themselves elected.

            And we’re on that path, now that we have Medicare/Social Security/Medicaid, could we 20% of the nations GDP on the military if we had something like WW2 happen again?

            My flexibility and ability to respond to unusual situations decreases sharply if I’ve max’xed out my credit cards, have no savings, and also have dependants to support. At some point, I have a problem, and yes, any particular purchase on my cards will be unconnected to it.

            Further, all of this meddling in the economy has pretty direct consequences itself, one being regulator capture, another being growth in bureaucracy.Report

            • Avatar Brent F in reply to Dark Matter says:

              Look, if it was an actual grand law of history in democracies that over the long run they vote themselves benefits without paying for them thus drown in dept and fall into dictatorship, there would actually be concrete historical examples of this happening.

              There aren’t. Which is why this “rule” is a staple of a vein of conservative discourse rather than something actual historians talk about.

              As it stands, it seems this idea came out of a misread of what “bread and circuses” was about in Rome to make a pseudo-intellectual point about how the lower classes lack the discipline to govern themselves. Its a rule from theory without real empirical backing.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Brent F says:

                Most history reveals that when strong democracies get a little too carried away with public spending, they hunker down a bit and get things under control.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Brent F says:

                @dark-matter

                @brent-f

                In particular if you remember the skewed way the Roman Republic voted, by tribes and by monied classes (centuries). Bread and circus was a policy implemented by the few voters that counted to satisfy the masses whose votes didn’t count to make sure they didn’t try to forcibly upset the electoral/ government system.Report

            • My flexibility and ability to respond to unusual situations decreases sharply if I’ve max’xed out my credit cards, have no savings, and also have dependants to support.

              What’s the credit rating of the United States these days?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to David Parsons says:

                What’s the credit rating of the United States these days?

                Very good. People are still mailing us credit cards, the bond market thinks we don’t have any problems in the next 4+ years.

                However by the point when the bond market starts to worry, we’ll already be deep in a hole, so deep it will take massive amounts of pain (i.e. breaking pensions, etc) to get out if getting out is the solution.

                Out “debt” is not our “commitments”, the later doesn’t show up on the credit rating. One of the lessons of Greece, Detroit, etc, is you really want to worry about these sorts of things BEFORE the bond market gets concerned.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to David Parsons says:

                @dark-matter

                @david-parsons

                Dark Matter’s example is another episode of confusing a household economy with a country econonomy.

                In a household, like in a factory, your revenue producing years are limited (to your work life, or the life of the factory before it becomes metal scrap). You have to manage your principal debt repayment within the life of your revenue producing years, so when your work life is over, your debts are paid down (your factory loans are paid before the factory has to close due to obsolescence )

                A country, like a utility, has infinite life. It’s ability to produce revenue (collect taxes, sell electricity or water) does not diminish with the years. Actually, because populations grow, just doing nothing means that the country (or the utility) will have more revenue in the future than today.

                Countries (normal ones, like the USA) and utilities do not need to pay the principal of their loans. They never do that. Loans just get rolled over. If the economic situation changes favorably or negatively, the interest in the next roll over will be lower or higher. As David points out, the USA can currently borrow at xtraordinarily low rates, which means the markets are very comfortable that interests will be paid in time, and that when these particular loans mature they will be easily rolled over by the current lenders or by others happy to take their place.

                People tend to think that assets are physical things, like a house or a car. They are wrong. Assets is what allows you to produce revenue. A country’s assets are not its roads, bridges or armed forces. A country’s asset is its tax raising ability. And Republican (elites? All?) claims notwithstanding, the USA tax burden is relatively low by international standards.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Dark Matter’s example is another episode of confusing a household economy with a country economy.

                Sure, very true, although these sorts of things make for good comparisons because people can relate to them.

                The thing is you’re not actually disagreeing with me. I fully admit we’ll have no issues paying the bondholders this year or next, that’s what the market cares about. We’re not going to pull a Greece or a Rome/Nazi Germany this year, or even within the next 10 based on current data.

                But all of our obligations aren’t on the books, those multi-decade trend lines still show the gov increasing until something breaks, and the big parties seem fine with all that.

                For all the protesting about how “always wanting more government” is an unfair carrature, my bet is most of the people claiming I’m wrong will be fine with the next massive expansion of gov (Obamacare didn’t go far enough) and whatever expansion comes after that (high quality pre-school perhaps, or maybe some ‘fix’ for inequality), and whatever other expansions of government come after that.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “Sure, very true, although these sorts of things make for good comparisons because people can relate to them.”

                No. They make terrible comparisons because they are in no way similar. To say that a mole sauce is like a chocolate cake, because there’s chocolate somewhere and people can relate to chocolate cakes makes as much sense as comparing households’ and country’s economies.

                And I absolutely diagram with your parade of horribles. There’s is nothing similar to our economy and Greece’s whose problems have mostly to do with monetary policy (ot the lack thereof once you are in the Eurozone). We can go on as much as you like, as long as we get into the details, because details matter, and cannot be hand waved with facile comparisons to chocolate cakes.Report

              • But all of our obligations aren’t on the books, those multi-decade trend lines still show the gov increasing until something breaks, and the big parties seem fine with all that.

                The United States coins the de facto world currency and the vast majority of debt is in that currency. Even for a superpower we’re in a unique position; any hypothetical bondholder revolt will just end up destroying their assets (and, in the case of foreign bondholders, the sections of their economies that trade with the United States) without significantly impacting the ability of the United States to collect revenue.

                Your “multi-decade trend lines” line sounds like religious faith.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to David Parsons says:

                Your “multi-decade trend lines” line sounds like religious faith.

                Faith is what you’re doing when you’re staring at math and data filled trend lines and ignoring them. Following the data is the exact opposite.Report

              • Yeah, but I will note that I’m not the one who’s claiming exponential growth.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to David Parsons says:

                It’s not even geometric.

                Once you scale it properly (per-capita or %GDP) especially.

                of course most people making hyperbolic claims about the budget and growth of government don’t even bother to adjust for inflation, much less scale things properly.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Morat20 says:

                It’s not even geometric. Once you scale it properly (per-capita or %GDP) especially.

                %GDP is exponential because the GDP itself grows exponentially.

                So yes, these programs grow “exponentially” (see below links if you don’t understand the concept).

                http://economics.stackexchange.com/questions/460/why-is-economic-growth-measured-exponentially-rather-than-linearly

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exponential_growthReport

              • %GDP is exponential because the GDP itself grows exponentially.

                That’s so nonsensical it’s not even wrong.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to David Parsons says:

                @david-parsons

                That’s so nonsensical it’s not even wrong.

                What exactly do you think is nonsensical about that?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to j r says:

                Credit where it’s due. If GDP grows 5% year on year, it is a classic example of exponential growth.

                Now, if the growth rate varies each year, the cumulative curve might look more linear, but thTs just opticsReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to David Parsons says:

                Why should a gov program expand to match GDP? Shouldn’t most programs, if they’re sticking within their original mandate, get less expensive (especially as a percentage of the total economy)?

                Say we decide we’re going to vaccinate every kid in America against Mumps.

                Presumably that doesn’t get more expensive if Apple comes out with a new ‘must have’ product. Actually the program should get less expensive as we figure out different and better ways to reach all children, and economies of scale should reduce the cost per kid (inflation and pop growth would change things, but I’m handwaving that for this example).

                New goods and services come out, the GDP doubles… but we’re not talking about inflation so the cost of the vaccination (etc) aren’t supposed to also double.

                For the cost of the program to grow faster than inflation+population growth means the program is either being misused or it’s expanding it’s scope. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if it’s expanding it’s scope it really should be getting budget approval.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “inflation and pop growth would change things, but I’m handwaving that for this example).”

                But you can’t handwave population growth. GDP reflects population growth too.

                “New goods and services come out, the GDP doubles… but we’re not talking about inflation so the cost of the vaccination (etc) aren’t supposed to also double.”

                You are misusing the definition of GDP, again. GDP is the total sum of expenditures by the population (affected by pop growth), which is the lions share of GDP, and private companies and governments expenditures in physical investments and goods not for processing or sale (and net exports). It has nothing to do with new fancy goods or services. If the vaccine prices go up with inflation the vaccine costs as a percentage of REAL NOT NOMINAL GDP, will go up with population only, while GDP will grow at a minimum it’s population. The trend will be very similar unless you have a very long time period (finally a use for your 100 years charts).

                “For the cost of the program to grow faster than inflation+population growth means the program is either being misused or it’s expanding it’s scope.”

                A program like vaccines, absent pharma jacking vaccine prices because it can (the government is not allowed by GOP crafted law to us its market power to negotiate better pricing for itself), or better but more expensive vaccines replacing older, crappier, ones, you would be right.

                Do you have proof (little long term charts) that individual programs are doing what you say they are doing?

                Or it is just a gut feeling?Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                GDP reflects population growth too.

                True but it’s not the bulk of GDP’s growth. Earlier I posted links suggesting pop growth was roughly responsible for 20% of GDP’s. Further roughly 70% of our pop growth is because of immigration, and aren’t immigrates under-consumers of these sorts of programs?

                Further these programs are growing faster than GDP, and a lot faster than pop growth. We might as well handwave it because it’s not the bulk of the problem.

                [GDP’s growth] has nothing to do with new fancy goods or services.

                From wiki: “Another major cause of economic growth is the introduction of new products and services…”
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_growth#New_products_and_services

                If the vaccine prices go up with inflation the vaccine costs as a percentage…

                True, but if we start a vaccine program in 1950, then by 1970 the technology is twenty years old, and by 2000 it’s 50 years old. 50+ year old technologies don’t normally “increase” (especially exponentially) in price after adjusted for inflation. Further during that time transportation costs also went down, record keeping went from paper to computer, etc.

                A program like vaccines, absent pharma jacking vaccine prices because it can…

                Yes, price jacking is an example of misuse.

                Do you have proof (little long term charts) that individual programs are doing what you say they are doing?

                These programs weren’t created to consume this much GDP. From a budgetary standpoint, exponential growth in costs in combination with a blank check is “misuse” or “scope growth” by definition. If you and I agree I’ll buy a new car from you every year, you don’t get to increase the price by 20x and claim it’s still what we originally agreed, very clearly it’s not.Report

              • I have some bad news for you, @dark-matter

                Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Will Truman says:

                Research on galaxy rotation casts some doubt on dark matter:

                Darn it. I want dark matter to fall because of a rewrite of the theory of gravity, maybe one that makes a star drive possible.

                Well thanks for the link.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to J_A says:

                But you can’t handwave population growth. GDP reflects population growth too.

                Maybe the dispute between you two resolves to per capita GDP? I’m not a big fan of using GDP as a metric of … well, anything useful, really. But compare an economy at T1 of 100 with a GDP of 100 to an economy at T2 of 110 people with a GDP of 110. GDP growth!!! (yay!!!), but not per capita GDP growth.

                And compare that to an economy at T2′ with 110 people and 105 GDP.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:

                @j_a
                @stillwater

                Maybe the dispute between you two resolves to per capita GDP?

                Fair enough.

                Graph of long term growth per capita.
                http://visualizingeconomics.com/blog/2011/03/08/long-term-real-growth-in-us-gdp-per-capita-1871-2009

                Graph of long term real growth
                https://visualizingeconomics.squarespace.com/blog/2010/11/03/us-gdp-1871-2009

                Hmm… instead of growing 5x we grew 4x, so pop growth was indeed a 20% effect, or in other words it’s a bit player in all this.Report

              • Avatar Pillsy in reply to Dark Matter says:

                So, a couple issues.

                First, a lot of the costs in a vaccine program are gonna be fixed, so it really oughta scale with per capita GDP. In health economics, you generally use per capita GDP, rather than GDP for exactly this reason.

                The second issue is countries don’t have programs to vaccinate against mumps. They have programs to vaccinate against infectious diseases. New vaccines protecting against new diseases are being developed pretty consistently. For you have more money (’cause you have more revenue) you can protect people against other infections, like HPV or varicella, and derive more public health benefits.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Pillsy says:

                …countries don’t have programs to vaccinate against mumps.

                You can substitute in “disease X” if you want.

                First, a lot of the costs in a vaccine program are gonna be fixed, so it really oughta scale with per capita GDP.

                I’m not following. Can you use an example?

                New vaccines protecting against new diseases are being developed pretty consistently. For you have more money (’cause you have more revenue) you can protect people against other infections, like HPV or varicella, and derive more public health benefits.

                True, but this is also an example of a program increasing scope that ought to be budget approved if it’s going to require more money.

                How much is the vaccination, how nasty is the disease, what happens if we wait 7 years for the drug to go off patent? If it’s a nasty disease and we don’t have budget, then should we be ending vaccination for disease “X” and doing this one instead?Report

              • Avatar Pillsy in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You can substitute in “disease X” if you want.

                The issue is that programs aren’t (generally) set up by legislatures or parliaments to vaccinate against a specific disease. They’re set up to administer vaccinations in general [1], and some government agency (or minister of health, et c.) makes a decision about which vaccines to use, how many doses to require, what populations get which vaccine, et c.

                When they do this, they consider exactly the sorts of things you ask about: cost of vaccination (both dose cost and delivery), severity of disease, whether the disease is common or rare, and so on. One way of summarizing this is to estimate [2] the net cost [3] of the providing it and divide by how many “quality-adjusted life years” (QALYs) you’ll gain from the vaccine and then.

                Then you compare that unit cost to a threshold value… which is commonly the per capita GDP or a small multiple of it. If the cost is lower than the threshold, it’s common to recommend that the vaccine because it meets the standard for cost-effectiveness, otherwise it probably won’t be recommended.

                [1] Or make recommendations to other agencies–or health insurance companies for that matter–about which vaccines they should administer.

                [2] Based on mathematical models that range from simple Excel spreadsheets to eye-wateringly complicated Monte Carlo simulations running on clusters.

                [3] Preventing diseases means saving money because you no longer have to treat them. Also, some evaluations will include costs due to lost labor, et c.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Pillsy says:

                When they do this, they consider exactly the sorts of things you ask about:

                Sure, that’s the example of a well functioning gov program. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

                But nothing in your description justifies what we see in practice, which is exponential growth. Even if we subtract GNP per cap growth, it’s still exponential growth.

                Which is why I keep pointing out that we have serious long term problems stemming from all this, and why I try to bring up causes… but there’s a lot of people who look at these trends and proclaim ‘don’t worry, be happy’, it can’t happen here, and if it does we can use hyperinflation.

                The first step in dealing with a problem is to admit that there’s a problem.Report

              • Even if we subtract GNP per cap growth, it’s still exponential growth.

                FYI, the GNP growth rate over the last 65 years is decreasing.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to David Parsons says:

                FYI, the GNP growth rate over the last 65 years is decreasing.

                Yes. And that tracks decently well with the gov’s growth into command+control and social(istic) programs.Report

            • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

              “Greece’s problems seem to be that there’s been this massive social contest over control over the government. Business has used it to kill other businesses, the ‘people’ have used it to give themselves benefits, politicians have used it to get themselves elected.”

              Seems to be to you, but you are wrong. Greece’s problems stem from the loss of monetary independence, and a currency that is stronger than what the productivity of Greece would warrant, without the ability to devaluate to compensate.

              Which of course is exactly the opposite of the USA, who has the ability to deflate its borrowings into nothingness (not that there is any reason the USA would ever do it, but the theoretical tool exists)Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Seems to be to you, but you are wrong. Greece’s problems stem from the loss of monetary independence, and a currency that is stronger than what the productivity of Greece would warrant, without the ability to devaluate to compensate. Which of course is exactly the opposite of the USA, who has the ability to deflate its borrowings into nothingness…

                Listing pre-WW2 German style inflation as a “solution” says a lot. It’s one of the nightmare things I’d like to avoid.

                (not that there is any reason the USA would ever do it…

                “It can’t happen here” is a dangerous statement, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a politically effective counter-argument for “more” government.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “Using pre WW2 German inflation….” was no solution to anything because the war reparations were not denominated in Marks but in foreign currency

                Pre WW2 German inflation had several causes, but basically the non existence of goods that could be bought at any price in the German market, due to a combination of a destruction of the industrial base, the loss of the Ruhr, and the need to devote almost everything that could be produced to the export market in exchange for currency to serve the war reparations.

                Instead of focusing on the real issues you keep bringing wrong arguments to the table, using chocolate cake to describe mole sauce, just because there’s chocolate somewhere.

                So no, the German post WWI inflation was not the German government inflating their domestic debt away. Though the French Directory did do it. Google assignatsReport

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                “Using pre WW2 German inflation….” was no solution to anything because the war reparations were not denominated in Marks but in foreign currency

                You’re quibbling about my comparison rather than my conclusion. Fine, I’ll rephrase.

                The US trying to inflate (i.e. default) on its debt will be somewhere between the economic wrath of god and fighting a zombie apocalypse. We’d be better off with a half a dozen 911 events.

                We lose our ultra low interest rates and get rates which befit a country which will soon be defaulting, this triggers truly impressive amounts of economic pain. We have to choose between killing tax increases which make our situation worse and not paying entitlements, i.e. pensions.

                Losing the dollar as the international currency becomes a serious option. The word “bankruptcy” gets mentioned a lot, maybe even seriously by serious people.

                Whether or not comparing this to pre-WW2 Germany is appropriate, this is a breathtakingly painful option with savage side effect and those details need to be mentioned every time this “option” is brought up.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Dark Matter says:

                I don’t think @j_a was talking about hyperinflation, but rather modestly higher inflation than the very low levels we’ve had for the past 30 years. Enough to make our debt load substantially more manageable, but not so much as to ruin the economy. There’s a lot of space between 1.5% and 1000% or whatever.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Don Zeko says:

                I don’t think @j_a was talking about hyperinflation, but rather modestly higher inflation than the very low levels we’ve had for the past 30 years.

                His exact phrase was: “…deflate its borrowings into nothingness…”

                Enough to make our debt load substantially more manageable, but not so much as to ruin the economy. There’s a lot of space between 1.5% and 1000% or whatever.

                When you say “make our debt load substantially more manageable” what the bond market will hear is “we can’t pay all of you full value”.

                And the world changes, probably a lot. At a minimum we have a substantial “risk” premium adding to our bonds (which would be awful), at a max on day one there will be a mad rush for the door as every trader tries to save himself. And then we have day two.

                At that point we’re over the edge of the universe and dealing with the unknown. Things will have had to be awful for us to try this, my expectation is that they’ll get a lot worse. One hopes we don’t turn to Darth Sidious and instead just let Social Security be cut in half, but we can’t really say.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Yes, I was talking about inflating into nothingness. That happened in Revolutionary France. It’s not pretty, but can be done. It is one of the advantages of seigniorage, being the issuer of the currency your debt is denominated into.

                It is of course so far away from the current situation in the USA that it’s only a historical/theoretical discussion. we are so far away from not being able to pay the national debt (*) that talking about creditors panic is either a demonstration of economic illiteracy, or an example of trolling in bad faith

                (*) for instance the ratio of tax revenue to GDP (2012) in USA was 24%, the third lowest in the OECD (average OECD: 34%). Only Chile and Mexico had a lower tax burden. Tax paradises like Ireland and Estonia were 28% and 32% respectively.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to J_A says:

                Instead of trying to inflate away our debt into nothingness and worrying about whether that would cause an economic catastrophe or merely significantly depressed growth, maybe we should just admit that we have a long-term fiscal sustainability problem and do something about it. It wouldn’t be all that difficult.

                All we have to do is convince the right that tax cuts aren’t magic and that we could do with a tad less military spending and then convince the left that we don’t have to have every single bell, whistle and perk (fancy trains, free college, eight hours of free childcare) that those cool Europeans have.

                Oh, an we’ll have to do something about our entitlement system, which would require both parties to stand up to the elderly. That would be the hardest part.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to j r says:

                “Instead of trying to inflate away our debt into nothingness and worrying about whether that would cause an economic catastrophe or merely significantly depressed growth, maybe we should just admit that we have a long-term fiscal sustainability problem and do something about it. It wouldn’t be all that difficult.”

                That’s the point I’m trying to make: We don’t have a long-term fiscal sustainability problem when we have a growing economy and one of the lowest tax burdens in the developed world.

                We have a political problem with a substantial part of our society desiring to cut “entitlements” (other people’s), a substantial part wanting to increase the power to kick ass around, a substantial part wanting to cut taxes from one of the lowest to the lowest tax burden, etc. each faction controls several veto points in the system, and basically all of them have thrown cooperation out the window.

                I think it was you who pointed out this past weekend that saving Social Security required just some minor tweaks, but no one will act on those. Likewise, bridges are not collapsing around us because we are in fiscal trouble and cannot pay for the repairs. They crumble because as a society we are playing an 11 dimensions game of political chicken, and we will not allow the other player to fund the repairs.

                The political paralysis will go on until it can’t go on anymore. At that time, the constitutional framework of checks and balances will have to go. The republic as we know it won’t die of a fiscal crisis, brought down by Chinese banks pulling out of Treasuries. It will be brought down by the screeching to a halt of the political process (*).

                (*) of course, by then, the Lenders would have pulled away, scared by a country that has the assets to pay its debt, but it’s refusing to use those assets as part of their internal political game.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to J_A says:

                How does the model work with zero to negative growth?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Works exactly the same:

                You have more people because people enjoy sex. New people pay the same existing taxes. Revenue goes up.

                Just like a utility. There are more people in town, they will buy the same amount of gas as their neighbours. Gas company revenue goes up

                It might be that if negative growth goes on for decades the tax burden will became too difficult to manage (*) (think Detroit). But decades long negative growth with growing population means a severe and general impoverishment of the population (think Detroit). We will be in trouble way before the problem is paying the existing debt (think Detroit).

                But extrapolating Detroit to the whole of the USA requires, as someone said in this tread, stealing a couple of bases, or seven. You have to present arguments about the hypothetical mechanism in which a low tax burden highly productive society with one of the world’s largest industrial outputs can collapse the way a single industry city did.

                And you know what is one of the most impressive sights in the world? Crossing the municipal border between Detroit and Grosse Pointe. The border goes halfway through city blocks. The East side is prosperous, dense, beautiful housing, worth several hundred thousands, with full services, well maintained streets, and police presence The west side is abandoned burned down boarded homes. In the same freaking city block, but in different municipalities. The Detroit collapse is feet away, and at the same time in a different economic world.

                (*) given that we are starting at a relatively low tax burden ratioReport

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to J_A says:

                Yes Detroit, and Flint. Population doesn’t have to continue to grow. My great grandfather had 16 kids, my father had 4, now I have one.

                The things that drive the economy have changed also. We went from the GDP being distibuted to individuals personal means of production shifting to factories, then to financialization and layered means of productions of corporations and chunks of service industries. Capitalism slowly went from open source to closed source.

                The chunks of the service industry may function well when the velocity of money and tangible capital formation is doing good, but in critical times that market is at risk.

                What happens in the belt tightening, is people tend to cut back on services, or barter, or find other ways to cope. Businesses close, tax revenue is diminished. To fix the reduced revenue, Public Entities need to: not maintain the infrastructure in a manner of sustainability, and or raise taxes. What often happens is a little of both. Taxes are raised and the infrastructure is not as strictly maintained. People and business are well aware what that looks like (your not getting as good a digs from taxes you pay) and if it becomes a problem, do vote with their feet.
                Yeah, good for walkers, but now what about the people left to deal with the even higher taxes needed on an aging unsustainable infrastructure, along with poor outlook to recoup tangible capital formation? Do people like having the sex that makes babies there?

                Scale that up to a nation state and it gets pretty grim, pretty fast.

                The funny thing about immigrants is they often come from the impoverished countries and understand how to operate in systems were the means of production are still very close within individuals reach and open sourced. To enter a country that has relatively closed source capitalism is probably vexing as hell, add to that the natives (which I don’t really blame here) have some ideas of REALLY going closed source and circling the economic wagons over those few little tatters of jobs that are left.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Joe Sal says:

                “Scale that up to a nation state and it gets pretty grim, pretty fast.”

                That’s the problem. Detroit doesn’t scale well into a nation state. The people that left Detroit did not end up in Luxembourg or Tanzania. They are in Houston or Charlotte, and still pay federal taxes.

                Your grandfather having more children than you doesn’t mean that there is no growth in population, just that there is less growth. There is indeed a demographic trap when birth rate is below replacement, but it’s more of a transient (decades long transient, but transient, unless the country depopulates to zero) issue, and you get back to a new equilibrium, because less people consume less services.

                Look, there’s a lot that could be done better. The point I’m trying to make is that talking about unreal doomsday scenarios does not help us change the real stuff for the better.

                For the most part the doomsday scenarios are pushed by politicians that know perfectly well they are talking nonsense (Paul Ryan knows that Social Security is reasonably healthy, but he will tell you the system will crumble tomorrow) but have a secret agenda (for instance, privatize social security) and are counting on your fear, your trust, and your ignorance of complex subjects to con you into allowing him to implement their agenda.

                We are way above average (and median) in terms of culture, information, and sophistication in this forum. We should not let ourselves be carried by arguments that don’t have factual support behind. I’ve tried to put together explanations of what I’m saying so y’all can evaluate them critically and make up your mind. Nothing I’ve said has been, “trust me, mole sauce is like chocolate cake”. It’s just the opposite: “mole is savory and hot. It’s not a cake, chocolate notwithstanding”Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

                @j_a

                There is indeed a demographic trap when birth rate is below replacement

                Or, you know, you open up immigration…Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to J_A says:

                Doomsday discussion isn’t really the focus here. I don’t think you have good ground to call Darks position hyperbole when we look at several of the parameters you are bringing to the table:

                1. That Social constructs have infinity life cycles.
                -We know this to be untrue.

                2. Social constructs can borrow money without any regard to principle or many other factors.
                -There is probably some merit in pushing back against all the pieces of what can be done and what should be done here.

                3. Social constructs can print itself out of debt.
                -While this maybe true, it eventually erodes the purchasing power of the currency. (which is the only ‘belief’ value the currency holds)

                4. Problems of these social constructs should be somewhat addressed on each by each basis.
                -The problem is these social constructs are so deeply embedded with each other you can’t address them individually. They are all anchors tied together on the deck of the mothership. You move one on the deck it moves others. You kick one overboard the rest are tied to it.

                I don’t know if you understand how much economic models are built around growth. Most economists even admit the vast number of models are built around growth.

                We are seeing variations in growth. It is a parameter. Can we control it? Should we try and control it? How flexible is the system to sustain long term zero growth? How flexible is the system to sustain negative growth? How leveraged can the system be and still sustain with those varied conditions? What system will handle +/- 10% growth variations with the least amount of command/control?

                Does your approach to the solution create a bigger problem?Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Joe Sal says:

                I don’t have an approach to a solution. I only try to explain the mechanisms of countries debt, and how and why they are different from household debt. Different enough that comparisons between the two are meaningless.

                I don’t know about “social constructs”. I know a lot about utilities, and how utilities are financed, and I know that utilities and countries share enough common elements about how revenue is raised and debt is serviced that comparisons between utilities and countries are indeed useful.

                Zero or negative economic growth sustained over the long term (Detroit) is a theoretical possibility (hey, it happened in Zimbabwe, so it’s real). However, it’s not a realistic scenario for the USA not only for the next decade, but for the foreseeable future. As you say, things are interconnected, and a lot of things have to go south to turn the USA into Zimbabwe.

                Again, perhaps Zimbabwe is lurking behind the corner, and, like the prosperous Rhodesians of yore, we can’t see it yet. But a lot of things did happen that turned prosperous Rhodesia into basket case Zimbabwe (and ending the apartheid was not the triggering factor).Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

                @j_a

                Assuming everything you’ve said is true (& I’ve no reason to doubt it), none of that means that a person is wrong to be concerned regarding the debt our politicians are willing to obligate us for in their effort to get re-elected. Perhaps @dark-matter is being hyperbolic, but should we suffer another serious economic downturn, even if it isn’t so bad as to force something approaching a worst case scenario, the fact is that if revenues fall and debt service rises, the population that will bear the brunt of the pain will not be the top 10% and/or the political class.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                But the hyperbole itself is wrong. We should be concerned about problems, including, perhaps, debt. Or we should be concerned that we are not taking advantage of the best opportunity we’ve had in the last decades to take additional debt and fix several of our infrastructure issues. Every problem, every issue, should be evaluated on its own

                I’m wary of people that hyperbolize things that don’t need to be hyperbolized. Most of the time, those that do it are not doing it because they are really concerned about the hyperbolized thing

                Damn, I’m too much of an engineer for my own goodReport

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

                Sure, now if only we could get our elected officials to issue bonds to replace actual infrastructure, instead of sports stadiums.

                ETA: Or to issue bonds that have time lines shorter than the projected life of the infrastructure. It’s hard to sell a bond for a new bridge when the old bond is still being paid off. Even if the debt service is sustainable, it doesn’t play well with voters, who start wondering if the politicians were corrupt, or if the bridge was poorly built.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to J_A says:

                And its more than simple hyperbole.

                Most discussions about the debt tend to be like that movie Dave, where Kevin Kline and his accountant settled the deficit in 20 minutes. The discussions always assume there is some giant leak in the Department of Wastenfraud, and if we only plugged it, everything would be fine.

                But as I noted, the vast majority of money spent is on programs that are wildly popular. We joke about the 600 dollar toilet seats, but the fact is most spending is needed to do the things that the majority of people want, and what the majority wants isn’t free Obamaphones and T bone steaks, but more serious things like a 600 ship navy and 800 military bases scatted around the world, and taking care of the elderly and sick.

                In order to seriously reduce the deficit, we need to reach consensus on the scope of our government.
                A discussion about the scope involves painful tradeoffs and concessions.

                A discussion about the size and scope of the military means a discussion about America’s role and place in the world.

                A discussion about Social Security and Medicare means a discussion about how we want to handle old age and sickness.

                The “moral panic” deficit articles that you see from Heritage and NR are usually just scoldings about the perceived weakness and indolence of Americans; even when they drape themselves in the robes of detached objectivity, they are really just pimping for an agenda that is wholly disconnected from economics.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                And perhaps, just perhaps, going from the third lowest OECD tax burden to the fourth could also be on the table.

                (make Korea your new libertarian paradise – Korea, we’re #3!!!! Watch your back, Chile. RA, RA, RA)Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Wow, I don’t ever recall endorsing/supporting/voting for a 600 ship navy, a military post in every country in the world, the nsa hoovering up every single email/text/etc and storing it, extreme rendition, black sites, “droning”, our entry into/exit from iraq, afganistan, syria, libya, destabilizing ukraine, etc. Nor do i recall anything on immigration, or any social spending.

                Do you?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Damon says:

                I never voted for the 2nd Amendment either.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Indeed, neither did I. But my comment was more directed to examples of how gov’t operations carry on regardless of the wishes of the electorate and often times, of the elected officials.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Damon says:

                You voted for representatives that favored or tolerated all of those things, though. Or, if you didn’t, a majority of your compatriots did. Military adventurism, our current immigration regime, and social security/Medicare/Medicaid may or may not be wise, but they’re pretty damn popular.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Don Zeko says:

                “a majority of your compatriots did”

                Don you have very clearly identified the problem.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Damon says:

                I don’t let the American electorate off so easily.

                No one explicitly said “Please tap my phone and scan my emails”, but a majority of Americans returned people to Congress on the promise of “keeping us safe!1!”

                Its kind of one of those “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest” things where Congress knew what Americans would put up with and what they wouldn’t.

                See how the bombings in Chelsea affect the questions at the debate, e.g., “Ms. Clinton, how will you guarantee the safety of America and make it impossible for anyone to put together a pressure cooker explosive? Do you support or oppose Rep. Gohmert’s Nationwide Pressure Cooker Registry and Muslim Profiling Act?”Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “keeping us safe!1!””

                Indeed. And a pox on them. That is one of the several reasons my conclusion has been to “watch it burn”. I’m done. The american public deserves to get what it asked for “good and hard”.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “This toilet seat cost $600!”

                “Right. $2 for the toilet seat and $598 making absolutely certain that not one red cent of that $2 was chiseled out of the American taxpayer by a scheming greedy thief, or lost in a warehouse somewhere, or spent on a part that was not exactly what it was supposed to be from exactly the right manufacturer.”Report

              • And if it’s a military or NASA seat, don’t forget that there’s a million-dollar certification program (measured test to destruction of samples) to ensure that the seat meets the detailed specifications. IIRC, some years back there was a kerfuffle over the cost of some hammers, which turned out to be stock Craftsman fiberglass-handle hammers from Sears. Whatever agency was involved was buying a few hundred, and neglected to drop the testing requirement from the contract.

                The government isn’t the only “offender” in this area. I remember explaining “NEBS compliant” to computer manufacturers when they first wanted to put gear into telephone company central offices. Among many other things, the printed circuit board substrates had to be made out of non-standard (for the computer industry at the time) materials to avoid toxic outgassing in a fire.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain says:

                I used to love Wm. Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards, where he would profile some silly or obscene government expense.
                But then I came to realize that it was really a diversionary tactic to focus attention on the trivial at the expense of the truly outrageous.

                The award would call into question the tire on a fighter jet, but not the fighter jet itself; the cost of donuts for a remote air base, and not whether we need that base at all.

                So far, Americans have a revealed preference for a colossal globe straddling imperial military that can deliver a overwhelming amount of force anywhere on earth at a moment’s notice.

                And yeah, that costs more than we can afford, and appears to be a leading candidate for the death of the Republic.

                Well, aside from Obamaphones.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                To be fair, a lot of our very liberal allies fully expect us to maintain that globe straddling military to keep the peace and help secure their interests, because they don’t want to have to pay for the military they would need to do it themselves.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Damn, them foreigners ARE smartReport

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Exactly so.
                There is actually a very good reason for why we spend every single penny of the federal budget, 600 dollar hammers notwithstanding. There is a constituency somewhere who will explain exactly why we need a mohair subsidy.

                So if we end up agreeing that every penny of the budget is vital and necessary, then we need to sack up and decide how much we raise taxes to cover the shortfall.

                Right now we have the Double Santa Claus Theory where everyone gets both low taxes and high spending.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                My point was that the American public isn’t the only party applying pressure to keep that military doing what it’s doing. Even if there was a general call to pull all our troops & equipment home, it wouldn’t just be the US Military Industrial Complex screaming about it. There would be all manner of embassies yelling about treaty obligations, real or imagined, etc.

                Still, troops & equipment that are deployed in hostile country cost a lot of money, and IMHO, the value we are getting for deploying those units is so far down the rabbit hole it can see a disembodied grin.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I agree again.
                And, once we pull our forces back, the very first International Incident will result in certain persons clamoring about the Munich Appeasement and Churchillian Resolve and the InterContinental Ballistic FannyWhacker Gap, leaving us vulnerable to The Enemy sapping our precious bodily fluids.

                Which brings us back to the notion that the massive deficits are not the result of a weakening of sturdy American self-reliance, so much as they are the result of trying to appease many different constituencies with differing agendas.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                InterContinental Ballistic FannyWhacker Gap

                Chuck Tingle’s next book title.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Appeasement, vulnerable, being invaded, weak, ineffectual, helpless, on the eve of destruction: You don’t to wait to hear that. It is Trumpy’s position and that of the R’s for the last few years. And that is with O’s only relative moderation on the bomby stuff. You don’t have to wait for a pull back or sharp reduction in defense spending to hear all that crap. Heck all that stuff is doing pretty well for His Trumpness.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “the very first International Incident will result in certain persons clamoring about the Munich Appeasement and Churchillian Resolve and the InterContinental Ballistic FannyWhacker Gap, leaving us vulnerable to The Enemy sapping our precious bodily fluids.”

                What do you plan to do about Aleppo, sir?

                YOU’RE JUST GONNA LEAVE THOSE POOR KIDS TO DIE, YOU *MONSTER*?!Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                But the hyperbole is wrong.

                This year it is, even this decade (although the lack of growth is already a big issue). These are long term problems, and the closer we get to the edge of that cliff the more painful it will be backing away from it.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                You have to explain what the cliff is, and how, by what mechanisms, do we get from a low tax burden, moderately growing, hight industrial output, not particularly endebted, high productivity, country that also happens to be the issuer of the currency of its obligations, to a cliff.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                You have to explain what the cliff is, and how, by what mechanisms, do we get from a low tax burden, moderately growing, hight industrial output, not particularly endebted, high productivity, country that also happens to be the issuer of the currency of its obligations, to a cliff.

                :Amusement: You and I have both explained it.

                Let me just quote you: The republic as we know it won’t die of a fiscal crisis, brought down by Chinese banks pulling out of Treasuries. It will be brought down by the screeching to a halt of the political process (*). (*) of course, by then, the Lenders would have pulled away, scared by a country that has the assets to pay its debt, but it’s refusing to use those assets as part of their internal political game.

                And now let me quote me: Politicians run out of the political will to tax long before they run out of things they can tax.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Dark Matter says:

                “And now let me quote me: Politicians run out of the political will to tax long before they run out of things they can tax.”

                That’s funny. Your argument is that politicians would rather let the economy collapse and misery go around than raise taxes. Did they made a vow to Cthulhu they are afraid to break or what?

                And yet, Illinois politicians were willing to raise taxes. They didn’t get the memo.

                Or it might be that it’s ok to go from being the third lightest taxed OECD to being the fourth. We are still a long way to go to get to Ireland levels, aka Low Tax Paradise.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                Your argument is that politicians would rather let the economy collapse and misery go around than raise taxes.

                So you’re saying you were wrong when you said they would? That deep down you think the GOP’s anti-tax crowd aren’t serious? Are you claiming the GOP is willing to raise taxes high enough to fund all the programs you want?

                And yet, Illinois politicians were willing to raise taxes. They didn’t get the memo.

                So hopefully now that they’ve had a tax increase, all of their problems are behind them and they’ll be prosperous. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to J_A says:

                @j_a

                That’s the point I’m trying to make: We don’t have a long-term fiscal sustainability problem when we have a growing economy and one of the lowest tax burdens in the developed world.

                2% growth should be a serious cause for concern, not a source of pride. Return growth to 5% and we can handwave away a lot of these other issues.

                I think it was you who pointed out this past weekend that saving Social Security required just some minor tweaks, but no one will act on those.

                If those “tweaks” involve tax increases which can be measured in percentage points of the GDP, then your definition of “minor” is very different than mine.

                We have a political problem with a substantial part of our society desiring to cut “entitlements” (other people’s),

                In Washington-speak “cuts” means “reduce increase of future spending”.

                These programs increase in cost every year above inflation and the growth of the economy; Just holding them constant should not be described as a “cut”. The cost of these programs has grown, dramatically, and often the basic plan was that future politicians would somehow find the money.

                Politicians run out of the political will to tax long before they run out of things they can tax. The political support needed to create these programs, and even to keep them, is less than the political support needed to constantly increase taxes to pay for them long term.

                Granted, we need to do something for the old and the sick, but “something” doesn’t have to mean “break the budget” or “first call on society’s resources”.

                bridges are not collapsing around us because we are in fiscal trouble and cannot pay for the repairs.

                Entitlements are squeezing out things like bridge repair. However we just had a massive stimulus which was sold as going to “shovel ready jobs” to help infrastructure. High speed rail and various “green” infrastructures is where the infrastructure money went… and having pulled that trick once, it’s going to be a harder sell the second time.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to J_A says:

                I think it was you who pointed out this past weekend that saving Social Security required just some minor tweaks…

                That was most definitely not me, because that statement isn’t true in any meaningful sense. The key to understanding social security is to see that it doesn’t exist as an independent entity. It is a program, a series of budget lines. The fiscal viability of social security is tied to the fiscal sustainability of the overall U.S. budget.

                Or we should be concerned that we are not taking advantage of the best opportunity we’ve had in the last decades to take additional debt and fix several of our infrastructure issues.

                This argument is getting a lot of play these days and maybe. But there are two issues that you have to deal with this before you can say that borrowing more to take advantage of low rates is a good idea: rollover risk and ROI. Yes, you can borrow money now at low rates, but what happens when it’s time to rollover that debt. What will the rates be then? The answer to that question is pretty important to deciding whether borrowing now is wise or foolish. Plus, there is an endogeneity issue, in that the more you borrow now, the more upward pressure you put on future interest rates.

                And perhaps more importantly, what is the return on these projects. If you borrow at 2% to invest in a project that fails to bring in >2% return, then you’ve made a poor financial decision. Maybe you say that the government doesn’t need to make revenue. Fine, I agree. But the government still needs to pay for things. If the government borrows at 2% for a project that loses money, then it’s made a poor fiscal decision. And what are the economic benefits? If the economic returns to a project are less than the cost of the project, then all you’ve really done is transfer money from the public coffers to those who were lucky enough to get in on to contract action (this is what often happens with sports stadiums and other sorts of sketchy urban redevelopment projects).

                That’s the point I’m trying to make: We don’t have a long-term fiscal sustainability problem when we have a growing economy and one of the lowest tax burdens in the developed world.

                I cannot tell if you are making a qualified statement that we won’t have a problem so long as growth continues or that we don’t have a problem, because we are growing. Either way, it’s not quite right. Growth is one element, an important element, in fiscal sustainability, but it’s not the only one. Also, we have some downside drags on growth, so there’s that.

                Your comment is a pretty good example of why the current political process is unable to deal with these problems: each side reflexively blames everything on the other and refuses to see that the blame lies on both sides. If either the right or the left got their way, we would be headed full steam for a fiscal reckoning. The system needs balance, which unfortunately it doesn’t have at the present time. Instead we just teeter back and forth from one unstable position to the other.

                And when I say fiscal reckoning, I don’t mean economic apocalypse. We will eventually be forced to tighten. The only question is whether we will do it the smart way, gradually, or we will continue to put off these decisions and have it forced on us all at once.

                That is the truth of it. The rest is just window dressing.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to j r says:

                I’m the one who said SS is fixable. It doesn’t take reworking everything or drastic changes nor is it untenable. Do choices have to be made: yes, some which people won’t like but it is fixable. There is a wide basket of things we can change that will make SS fine for decades.

                Have a shot at making some choices
                http://socialsecuritygame.actuary.org/#how-playReport

              • Avatar j r in reply to greginak says:

                Like I said, social security is not really a thing on its own. It’s a series of line items in the federal budget. So, as long as the federal budget is fine, congress can pull this or that lever to make sure that the checks keep going out. The reality is, however, those checks will be smaller and you’ll pay more on the front end to get them.

                Stop for a second and think how you might be talking about this if it were not social security but a bond or some insurance you bought on the private market. If you buy a bond that promises to pay an X% NPV return and the debtor comes to you one day and says that they can no longer give you X%, so you’ll be getting <X, that is a default.

                Or if you bought private health insurance at a certain price with the understanding that it provides a certain level of coverage, but you got sick and the insurance company told you that it can no longer afford to give you that level of benefits, so you'll have to make due with what they can give you, you'd probably curse that insurance company for the greedy, profit driven capitalist pigs that they are.

                But it's social security, so at least we will be getting short changed for a good cause.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to greginak says:

                I know it’s fixable. And is not even very difficult to do.

                And I strongly support the fixing. Paul Ryan ain’t meReport

              • Avatar j r in reply to j r says:

                @j_a

                PS – you keep saying this thing about the United States having the third lowest tax burden in the OECD and it’s not quite right. Tax burden is a function of how much taxes fall on each group of actors within an economy and on which sector.

                The United States has relatively low sales and effective corporate tax rates compared to other OECD countries, but the U.S. tax burden on income is quite high comparatively.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to j r says:

                What?

                My brothers in the UK will be happy to know that 20% VAT AND a tax band of 40% above 43 k£ (and 50% above 150 k£) is low compared to our crushing 8.25% sales taxes (Houston) and income taxes rates of 33% above 183 k$ and 39.6% above 400 k$.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to J_A says:

                If you want to add payroll taxes, that’s an additional 12% on employees and 13.8% on employers in the UK (national insurance contribution), compared to the horrific 15.3% total in the USA, of which the employer pays 6.2%.

                And we haven’t even got into the council taxes (equivalent to property taxes) or the estate taxes, or the 20% capital gains tax.

                So, I’m sorry, mate, I still think them Americans have a low tax burden compared to us Brits (my Anglophile me speaking)Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to J_A says:

                Ha, I know more than a couple dozen Brits who are voting with their feet about the taxes and a bunch of other stuff going on there. Not just recently either, going back for more than a decade.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Joe Sal says:

                Moving from the UK to the USA (or from France to Russia) for tax purposes makes sense

                Moving from NYC to Wichita or Omaha makes less sense.

                Having said that, there’s a lot of rich Europeans that have settled in the UK because of (comparatively) low taxes. The UK tax burden is also below the OECD median.Report

        • Lucas’ work drew heavily from the fall of Roman (and other) Democracies

          That is to say, from Asimov’s Foundation series and B-movie serials. But it’s all good.Report

          • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Some day an old-school sci fi fan is going to have to make the case for Foundation to me, because I was emphatically not impressed by the one that I read.Report

            • Which one did you read? If it’s not one of the originals (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, or Second Foundation), then, yes, it’s not good.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I disagree. I think Foundations Edge, and Foundation and Earth are very good, and make more sense as a closure of the series than Second Foundation did.

                But you need to read them (at least before reading Foundation and Earth) after reading The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire.

                I found the tying up of the two series quite satisfying.

                The Hari Seldon prequels are really bad. Really, really, bad. Poorly written too.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Foundation’s Edge. So what about the originals is different from what I read?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Don Zeko says:

                They’re much leaner, both because they were originally a serial, and written when Asimov was basically a kid.

                They are also essentially detective stories, more than Sci fi – esp not the pulp Sci fi of their era.

                That said, I liked Foundation’s Edge, while Foundation and Earth was merely passable. (Maybe I thought he was a bit unfair to the Solarians)Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Kolohe says:

                I don’t think you can enjoy Foundation and Earth without having read Robots and Empire.

                In Robots and Empire you see the start of the process that ends in Foundation and Earth. By the time of F&E all makes sense now.

                P. S. I agree and disagree about the Solarians. I think he painted them in a bad light as a sleight of hand. I read them as Asimov believing they are the next step in the process.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kolohe says:

                Foundation’s Edge was OK, though it meandered and never got anywhere. Foundation and Earth was incredibly talky even for a late Asimov book, with much of the talk being an older guy flirting with a young woman who turns out to be a robot. Just a chore to get through.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                That sounds better than an older guy fighting to repress his attraction to a younger woman from a primitive tribe that he assumes is his inferior in every way. Good lord was that gross.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I think you are confusing your Asimov.

                Bliss is not a robot, even though Golan Trevize accuses her of being one. The only robot in that book is Daneel Olivaw (who has been a robot since the first Robot Novel).

                There’s a robot in the following (and so very crappy) novel, Prelude to Foundation, but no old guy flirting with it. Everyone is young in that novel.

                I agree that Foundation’s Edge feels inconclusive. You are only halfway through the search, and it shows. Is like Asimov just wrapped it all up because he had to run to the printers with a final chapter. But all the conclusions of Foundation’s Edge are proven wrong in Foundation and Earth, and you (at last I) get a more satisfying resolution.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to J_A says:

                That’s right. She’s part of Gaia. It’s Hari Seldon’s wife who’s a robot. They’re easy to confuse because they’re both portraits of the second Mrs. Asimov. (Whom he was crazy about, and good for him.)

                But Pelorat does flirt with her incessantly, and it gets really tiresome.Report

              • Avatar J_A in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Pelorat IS Asimov. Bliss/Gaia finds him adorable, like a fluffy pet hamster. She/they have probably never seen anything like him.

                Dors Venabli is a smug know-it-all. She doesn’t remind me of Bliss in any wayReport

  5. Avatar James K says:

    What I found interesting about the article was what it couldn’t explain.

    Economic factors or insecurity apparently aren’t to blame – the only factors they could identify as having factor were age and race. But the population of the US is ageing, so the age effect is the wrong way round to explain anything. Similarly, the race effect is the wrong way round to explain either Trump or Sanders.

    This suggests one of two possibilities to me:
    1) The increase in authoritarian sentiment identified in the World Values Survey is just part of the picture. Perhaps dissatisfaction with the existing state of things is leading some people to authoritarianism and others to insurgent candidates.
    2) There are a much larger group of people with fondness from strongmen, they just don’t think of it that way. This model has Trump Supporters thinking of Trump as restoring democracy, even though he’s basically a standard-issue strongman in temperament. For that matter, Sanders’s whole pitch had a distinct “I’ll solve the nation’s problem through sheer force of will” quality to it.

    The thing about both these hypotheses is that the article’s ending point “don’t worry, most people still believe in democracy” Isn’t very reassuring in either case.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to James K says:

      I didn’t read the whole article, but I wonder how much of the growing authoritarian sentiment can be traced to hyperbolic rhetoric regarding the importance of the actual person chosen to be the executive.

      If tge executive truly is that important, then the office has too much power. Alternatively, I wonder how much of this can be sourced to people who are neo-feudalists, who really want an incredibly powerful executive, and by hyping up the importance of the position, convince enough of the public to want the executive to gain power.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        People across the spectrum see the president as quasi magical and able to do whatever they want. People did that with Obama, Sanders supporters thought he would be able to get what he wanted. Libertarians think getting Johnson will lead to massive changes. Presidents are important but on their own can’t do all the things their supporters think they can. Heck there are still liberals who think O could have gotten a ton more progress on health care if he just wanted it. The R’s throughout the Bush years pushed the “will” narrative that if we just wanted and believed enough we will succeed.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to greginak says:

          Some of that is that in some policy areas it’s true (not just the obvious military thing). The FCC is restructuring data communications without consulting Congress. The EPA is similarly regulating carbon emissions from cars and power plants without consulting Congress. FERC can made substantial changes in energy markets without consulting Congress. The last three Presidents have unilaterally created millions of acres of national monuments. It’s at least unsurprising that many people think the executive branch can do so much at the behest of the President.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Michael Cain says:

            It’s an unfortunate flaw in our constitutional system that I don’t think the founders could’ve foreseen. Like greginak said, the president isn’t all powerful but the combination of bully pulpit created by mass media and at least theoretical control over a sprawing web of an executive agencies and law enforcement does give the presidency a lot more power than originally concieved. This is especially so when Congess is too dysfunctional to act as a meaningful check most of the time.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to InMD says:

              This is especially so when Congess is too dysfunctional to act as a meaningful check most of the time.

              The GOP currently controls both sides of Congress. The IRS may still be suppressing free speech, no one has been punished for this, much less arrested. This was a VERY high profile issue they spent a lot of time on.

              This isn’t an example of Congress being too dysfunctional (although it often is), it’s more that IRS (by itself) is too complex and large to reasonably answer to Congress.

              My expectation is that if the Dems were still in charge there’d be no investigation and we wouldn’t be wondering if the IRS had stopped because we’d be sure they were still at it.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to James K says:

      @james-k @oscar-gordon

      I think there are a few issues.

      1. Americans seem to have a cultural fondness for what someone here or on LGM called “institutional rebels” These are people in the system who buck the rules of the system to get things done. Dirty Harry is an obvious example but also in economics we tend to fawn over the Zuckerberg’s and Elon Musks and the guy from Uber. We don’t admire people who rise slowly and steadily in a system. Or people who follow norms to get things done. It would be interesting to see a crime drama where the police follow all the rules and are applauded for it. How many cop shows and movies sneer at the 4th Amendment or “technicalities” that get a criminal off instead of revering the 4th.

      Trump fits the institutional rebel or outsider thing. HRC is slow and steady rising through the system.

      2. We still are strongly weded to the Great Men of History narrative.

      3. I suspect #2 is right. There seems to be a current trend of attacking universal democracy because the other side are idiots. There are right-wing and sometimes liberal versions of this. You have Aganist Democracy by Jason Brennan which is getting fawned over by libertarians who might think Peter Thiel is a crank but a crank who is onto something when he talks about liberty and democracy being incompatible. When I jump up and down about how restricting the franchise based on ingroup characteristics will always be abused, it almost always falls on deaf ears because that idea is so passé.

      I think heightened partisanship can decrease trust in universal democracy especially when social issues are on the line like LBGT rights or civil rights in general.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Speaking of authoritarian, now Donald Trump is coming out explicitly against the Bill of Rights:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/09/19/donald_trump_on_the_right_to_counsel_for_ahmad_khan_rahami.htmlReport

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      But what is really important is the Holy Narrative. Did Clinton drink enough water to keep the bill of R’s hydrated? Will Clinton win the news cycle?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

        “Why do her handlers have to FORCE her to drink water? What’s WRONG with her?”Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

          I’ll bet she lied about finishing that last glass of water.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

            Well, The Press will focus on anything that generates a buzz. For sure. (Markets!!!) But Hillary has bigger problems than staying hydrated. And Trump has few smaller problems than being accused of rejecting the bill of rights. (He didn’t.)

            This election is a test of Murkin’s commitment to the status quo, seems to me. Hillary’s it; Trump isn’t it.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

              Yeah he just doesn’t’ like the incompetent bomber dude getting all that sweet sweet health care and a free attorney.

              If Trump wins things will be far more status quo then the suckers believe. It will be louder and weirder but more aggression, more tax cuts for the rich and cutting regs. That ain’t new.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Maybe you’re right. (Personally, I didn’t read anything like that into the comment. But either way, he’s working the crowd. Whether it pays off remains to be seen.

                {{Remember when everyone was bashing Trump for not pivoting to the center? And how stupid we all thought he was? By alienating “the moderates”? And he said “I ain’t never gonna change”? Remember that?…. And here we are.}}Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                Bashing the disreputable parts of the bill of rights always seems to work with conservative crowds.

                Gotta let Trump be Trump. There will be a lot of analyzing the data on who voted for who when its all over to figure it out. We’re sort of guessing now and holding our fingers to the wind. Yup here we are. Could be very fugly in a couple months.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

                Greg,

                Bashing the disreputable parts of the bill of rights always seems to work with conservative crowds.

                Maybe. But that response skips right over the actual reason those folks believe as they do.

                Is it ALL racism? (Man, that’d be nice wouldn’t it?; if Trumpism could be reduced to and rejected as pure racism?)

                Are there other issues in play? Haven’t you heard a single thing notme has said over the years???Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Stillwater says:

                You ever watch Dirty Harry? Great movie making. But illustrative of a long term theme. That wasn’t about race and i didn’t mention it.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to greginak says:

            Waterghazi!Report