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March 2, 2005

Transitive properties

Remember how opponents of the Bush administration, like the New York Times, opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom in part because of the effect it might have on Middle Eastern stability? Well, now that it has happened, the Times has no trouble spinning the positive developments of the last few weeks into "threats of instability," from Iranian nuclear power to Iraqi violence. But there's one thing the Times is certain that the administration isn't responsible for: anything good.

Administration officials say Mr. Bush's calls for democracy in the region have been secondary to the ripple effect of the elections, however imperfect, held by Palestinians and Iraqis in January, and the open, messy but still invigorating political jockeying among those peoples after the balloting.

"You can't dismiss the argument that the themes we're hearing from Washington are helping to cause changes in the Middle East," a senior State Department official said. "But you have to give the main credit to the elections in Palestinian areas and in Iraq. The Iranians, the Syrians and the Iraqis have to be reacting to the elections."

Ah, I see. So the possibility for Egyptian and Lebanese democracy has nothing to do with Bush. It's the Iraqi elections that deserve the credit. Remind me again what prompted those?

Someone reading this "News Analysis" in a vacuum would think that they just sprung up spontaneously. So you can "give the main credit" to these "elections." That's fine. That's safe. As long as you don't give it to Bush, because lord knows that all the people who work at the Times are smarter and more sophisticated than he is.

Incidentally, there elections in Iraq and Palestine may have gone smoothly, Syria may be forced to end its occupation of Lebanon, and Egypt may hold multiparty elections, but that doesn't mean that we -- assuming we work at the Times -- can't report on all the reasons the Bush administration had nothing to do with it, according to "administration officials," "a senior State Department official," "many experts," "some European diplomats," "an American official," "Arab officials," and of course "an Arab diplomat." All of whom are perfectly willing to steer plaudits away from the president... as long as they can do so anonymously.

This is journalism.

March 8, 2005

Close, but no cigar

Damn. And I was sure my $16,750 bid would be good enough. No such luck.

March 9, 2005

Less is more

Suppose you owned a convenience store. Suppose you didn't change sticker prices, but you instituted a new policy of "keeping the change," so that when customers paid for $15 items with a $20 bill, you retained the extra $5. Would customers consider this to be (a) a reduction in company expenses, or (b) a price increase? Let me phrase the question a different way: suppose the government put out its annual budget proposal. Suppose that programs weren't eliminated ; suppose further that under this proposal, taxpayers had to give more money to the government at the end of the day. How would you describe this situation?

Well, that depends. If you're a taxpayer, you'd of course call this a tax increase. On the other hand, if you're the New York Times, you might describe it as a "spending reduction." In fact, I can almost certainly guarantee that you'd describe it that way.

New Jersey is facing a large budget deficit for next year. As usual. And to mitigate this problem, our unelected Acting Governor, Dick Codey, has proposed a budget for next year which cancels a property tax rebate program. In other words, they keep more of our money. Astonishingly -- or perhaps not so, knowing the political leanings of the Times -- the paper doesn't seem to realize that this represents a tax increase. Under the proposal, the government will keep about $1.5 billion extra of our money. And yet the Times claims:

The proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 does not raise any of the three major taxes: sales, income or corporate business. And Mr. Codey scrapped a proposal to tax 401(k) retirement accounts.

Rather, the biggest source of new revenue would be $500 million from the sale of state assets.

Taxpayers having to give an extra $1.5 billion to the state isn't a "source of new revenue"?

The minor fiction here is that the property tax goes to the municipality, while the rebate comes from the state – so the rebate is a "spending program" because it involves a transfer from one government pocket – the state's – to another – the town's. This is a dual fiction – first, because the towns are just creatures of the state anyway and their budgets are intertwined, and second, because from the point of view of the taxpayer, what on earth difference does it make? The fact is that at the end of the day, we're paying $800 extra per year in taxes.

The major fiction, of course, is the oft-repeated liberal idea that tax cuts "cost" money. The Times -- and keep in mind that this was a news story, not an editorial -- wants to convince us that the money belongs to the government, and hence that it is "giving" it to people -- "spending" it -- when it doesn't take as much as it usually does. Of course, from a pure bookkeeping standpoint, a tax cut has the same effect on the deficit as a spending increase does. But no rational person would confuse the two -- just as no rational person would think that a store returning change to a customer is the same thing as a store spending more money (even though, from a pure bookkeeping standpoint, it has the same effect on the bottom line.)

A matter of principle

Picking up on Jonathan Chait's argument from last week that conservatives are ideologues and liberals are pragmatists, Matthew Yglesias weighs in in the American Prospect:

On economic matters, in particular, conservative policies are drawn together by a broad principle: Small government is good, regulation should be light, and taxes should be low. Liberals don't really accept the reverse of those propositions. While the right thinks taxes should be as low as possible, liberals don't think they should be as high as possible. We think that should be high enough. But high enough for what? High enough to pay for spending on programs that work well. But work well at doing what?

There's the rub. Liberalism's pragmatic, empirical orientation -- it's focus on producing good outcomes rather than conformity with abstract principles -- is a source of strength.

Do liberals not have "broad principles" on economic matters? Of course they do. Those principles may not be "the reverse of those propositions," but they nonetheless exist. The idea that just because liberals "don't think [taxes] should be as high as possible" they don't have ideological beliefs on taxes is absurd on its face. Liberals think that government has an important role to play in managing the economy; that taxes should be strongly "progressive"; that government can and should create opportunities for the "less fortunate";" that there should be a strong, broad safety net provided by the government; that inequality is bad; that corporations generally can't be trusted to do what's right and that the market is incapable of solving that problem. Are these not all "broad principles"?

Continue reading "A matter of principle" »

March 11, 2005

Politicians With Nothing Better To Do, Part 721

I can't say I'm a big supporter of drug legalization - at most I give the idea a tentative maybe - but I am absolutely in favor of candy legalization.

Marijuana-flavored candy, which has been getting some notoriety nationally, took a hit in Suffolk [[County] Thursday as county lawmakers took their first step toward outlawing it.

Legis. Daniel Losquadro (R-Shoreham), who sponsored a bill that would prohibit buying or selling the candy in Suffolk, wouldn't say whether it was available in local stores, but in a news conference held Thursday in Hauppauge he said it has appeared in New York City.


Meanwhile, an aide to New York City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, who also has denounced the candy, said Thursday that a similar city ban was being drafted.

It disturbs me greatly that politicians have the power to declare anything they don't like illegal, but it disturbs me even more that this ban will probably pass and hardly anyone will bat an eye.

March 13, 2005

I swear I didn't cheat...

...but I got the exact same score -- a 58 -- on this libertarian purity test as Dan Drezner did. And like Dan, I'm comfortable with that result, and for similar reasons (which is probably why we scored the same).

I'm not an anarchist, so I don't think that courts and police ought to be privatized. I've read libertarian journals explaining how it would work; let's just say I'm not convinced. And I don't think libertarianism has much useful to say about international relations, given that one is dealing with other, non-libertarian regimes.

So, I guess I'm a "medium-core libertarian." At least by the standards of this test creator.

March 15, 2005

Stop Reading This And Get Back To Work!

Mid-March: A time for shamrocks and skiing, spring training and spring break, college basketball and articles about college basketball betting pools. The articles, in a somewhat disapproving tone, remind us that we all spend far too much time on NCAA Tournament pools, and that all this time we spend on them costs the U.S. economy 1.3 zillion dollars. Here's a typical example:

Workers will spend countless hours filling out tournament brackets, monitoring scores on the Web and talking trash across cubicles.

Here’s the math: Employers nationwide lose about $101 million in productivity for every 10 minutes their employees spend obsessing about the tournament, according to New York outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“I’d guess worker productivity is down in March at most places,” said Wright, an accounting manager at a Metro Detroit manufacturing firm. “Technically, (pools) are illegal, but it’s hard to find an office without one.”

Never stated in these articles are just how productive an office would be if workers were on such a tight leash that they couldn't relax and discuss basketball for ten whole minutes. (DISCLAIMER: talking trash is, of course, harassment, and as such should be reported to the proper authorities.)

March 18, 2005

Politicians With Nothing Better To Do, Part 722

If I had the time, I could probably write a couple of entries a day on politicians with nothing better to do. Consider this story, entitled "Lawmaker Seeks to End Sexy Cheerleading":

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The Friday night lights in Texas could soon be without bumpin' and grindin' cheerleaders. Legislation filed by Rep. Al Edwards would put an end to "sexually suggestive" performances at athletic events and other extracurricular competitions. [...]

Under Edwards' bill, if a school district knowingly permits such a performance, funds from the state would be reduced in an amount to be determined by the education commissioner.

Edwards said he filed the bill as a result of several instances of seeing such ribald performances in his district.

As if the spectacle of a dozen attractive teenage girls prancing around in tiny tiny skirts isn't at all sexually suggestive. No, it only becomes a problem when they move their hips in a certain way that a certain legislator doesn't like. Sheesh.

Notice that the title of the article points to why there are likely countless examples of such inanity: these guys are called "lawmakers". A carmaker is expected to make cars, a candlestick-maker is expected to make candlesticks, therefore a lawmaker is expected to make laws. And make laws they shall.

The other problem is that most people probably think like my mom. Not that I've talked to her about this particular issue, but I have a pretty good idea that her response would be along the lines of "Good. Teenage girls shouldn't be doing that". Sure, I can see that perhaps they shouldn't be doing that, which makes my mom's (imagined) position difficult to argue with.

But such a position misses the larger point, which is that it shouldn't be the government's job to keep people from doing every last thing they might not supposed to be doing. Furthermore, it's absurd that anyone could even consider basing state school aid on the shake of a teenage girl's hips (shall we someday base it on watery tarts?). And most disturbingly, it's a reminder of how much power politicians really do have over us: Al Edwardses all over the country can make something illegal simply because they do not like it. And people such as my mom will applaud and never feel the slippery slope they're sliding down.

(And what do you know? I side with a blogger who describes himself as a "Democrat in Bush Country". Not that I much care if 40-year-old men ogle 14-year-old girls on their spare time, but I do agree that the Texas (or any) Legislature has to have more pressing issues.)

(And by the way - as a Republican in New York City, I probably get infinitely more crap than you do :-)

(UPDATE: Oh, sure, someone else gets the Insta-lanche!)

About March 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Jumping To Conclusions in March 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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