Wednesday, October 12

I have neglected this poor blog for some time. It began as a blog for a course I was teaching at Denison University several years ago. Then it became something else. Then I began teaching at Marymount Manhattan College and blogged here. Now I won't be blogging for awhile. I've left NYC and am working in Research & Development at Griffin Technology in Nashville. Very fun--getting to make things and influence the future of digital media rather than just studying it!

Saturday, May 7

Testing Dashblog

Maybe I'll get back to this neglected blog!

Wednesday, November 10


Whoa, just found this when I went to do a google search. MS search launches tomorrow (Thursday)—talk about stolen thunder!
You probably never notice the large number that appears in tiny type at the bottom of the Google home page, but I do. It's a measure of how many pages we have in our index and gives an indication of how broadly we search to find the information you're looking for. Today that number nearly doubled to more than 8 billion pages.... The documents in Google's index are in dozens of file types from HTML to PDF, including PowerPoint, Flash, PostScript and JavaScript. Together these pages represent a good chunk of the world's information.
[Google blog]

This is a Decision Tree I Can Live By!

Helpful guide for the ethical, but not duped, digital music lover:

Should I Rip This?:

This flow chart might come in handy the next time you face that insanely complex modern ehtical dilemma: whether to rip a CD or not. (Or, you can just look for a little (cc) Some Rights Reserved and skip all this fuss.)

(Via Serendipity.)

(Via [reblog] Eyebeam reBlog.)

Weblogg-ed is now Podcasting

I got props from Weblogg-ed, and for giving advice on podcasting no less! If you haven't checked out this blog before, you should. Add it's feed to your aggregator—it is THE blog on pedagogy and blogs, and other new media. Oh, and you might just want to add its feedburner feed to your podcasting aggregator.

The Power of Creating Content: "This Podcasting thing has really piqued my interest for now, especially since I was actually able to figure out how to do one without too much sweat. I even got the RSS feed for any future Podcasts up and running via FeedBurner thanks to an e-mail from Dave Gilbert (who by the way has a class blog up and running...check out the "Study Guide Blogs" in the right hand column.) This just keeps on getting more and more fun.

"Every tool should have a way to publish."

So I've started listening to Podcasts as a part of my multitasking life, and there is some good stuff out there. (Adam Curry's presentation at Bloggercon III is downloading as I write this.) And as today's EnGadget Podcast was playing this morning, one of the hosts said "Every tool should have a way to publish." I basically stopped in my tracks. Now how cool would that be? Publish right to your blog or to a classroom site with one click in Word or Powerpoint or Photoshop. Or send the latest movie of your kid winning a trophy in his first BMX race to Grandma via a click to RSS feed in iMovie. Or...

And the best part of this all is that this content creation stuff just keeps getting easier to do. I think I babbled on about this in my Podcast yesterday, but the potential of the read/write Web is just going to keep growing as the barriers to access keep getting lower and lower. And while I've been writing and thinking and talking a lot about the whole digital natives and immigrants thing lately, what I'm realizing is that gap may actually be able to close more quickly and more easily than I've thought. At some point, even the teacher-immigrants are going to be able to do all of this. I mean only a couple of years ago, most of these technologies were WAY out of reach for most people. Now, even my seven year old gets it.

That's cause for optimism, and excitement. The more people thinking and experimenting and doing, the more great ideas that will follow. The more great ideas, the more people will be willing to think and experiment and do."

(Via Weblogg-ed News.)

The Uber Map

These are the best maps I've seen of the election results. Even better than the "purple" maps. Definitely worth a look.

Measuring the Vote: "These maps show the 2004 presidential vote adjusted to reflect the population size of the states and counties, including Travis.... (via Monkey-brained Musings)"

(Via Austin Bloggers: Austin Meta-Blog.)

Saturday, November 6

This Denison Life: Podcast #2

In the spring of 2004 I taught a class at Denison University in Ohio in "Oral Performance." My students learned how to interview, structure oral narrative, and mix and master with Garage Band. Their final project was to produce web radio shows. I will be posting and podcasting two of these a week--about a dozen total.

Some students used semi-pro recording gear, others made do with substandard stuff. Overall they are, I think, pretty good, and they give an uncensored, unexpurgated account of bits of student life on a small liberal arts campus. Love, lust, substance abuse, frustration, hope, friendship, and growth--all part of life at Denison....

This Denison Life: 2nd in a series.

Zeitgeist Heads-Up: Podcasting

I have recently discovered "podcasting." Wow! Podcasting is a way of location- and time-shifting your reception of audible media. It's a new method of delivery, a democratic and supremely flexible alternative to broadcasting. Basically, podcasting uses web syndication, specifically RSS 2.0 (An Atom feed can be jury rigged with Feedburner [see below]), to deliver a media file as an enclosure in a blog feed. If you have iTunes, you can use a special aggregator (my fav is iPodderX) that has a script that will automatically place any new mp3 files into an iTunes playlist. Sync to your iPod (or other player), then you can hop a train or a bike or foot it and you can dig on some fresh, time-shifted homemade radio!

Rather than elaborate, I'll just point you to the Wikipedia entry for podcasting, which has a full explanation and some great links.

From my experience playing around for the last few days, and researching how to do this, here's some advice: If you want to syndicate some home brew content of you own, the easiest way to get started is with Feedburner. Get a free account, and then follow these instructions to set up your own podcast feeds. You can link them right off your Blogger or Typepad blog.

This is going to be BIG. Podcasting will do for radio what blogging has done for print journalism.

My first foray will be to post--at the rate of two a week--the web radio shows my Denison students produced last spring. And then I plan to produce some fresh content with friends here in NYC.

This Denison Life: Podcast #1

In the spring of 2004 I taught a class at Denison University in Ohio in "Oral Performance." My students learned how to interview, structure oral narrative, and mix and master with Garage Band. Their final project was to produce web radio shows. I will be posting and podcasting two of these a week--about a dozen total.

Some students used semi-pro recording gear, others made do with substandard stuff. Overall they are, I think, pretty good, and they give an uncensored, unexpurgated account of bits of student life on a small liberal arts campus. Love, lust, substance abuse, frustration, hope, friendship, and growth--all part of life at Denison....

This Denison Life: 1st in a series.

Thursday, October 14

Blogs and 18th Century Pamphleteers

Glenn Reynolds take:
PAJAMA PEOPLE in the 18th Century: I've often said that the rise of the blogosphere represents, in many ways, a return to the late 18th century environment of pamphleteers, numerous small ideological newspapers, and coffeehouse debates. And I have to say that this passage from Larry Kramer's new book, The People Themselves: Popular Constitutionalism and Judicial Review, could describe the reaction of some in today's haut-commentariat to the rise of blogs and other alternative media:
After the adoption of the Constitution, most Federalists had expected to amicably govern a quiescent population content to follow their wise leadership. Instead, they were shocked to find themselves wrestling with an unruly, rambunctious democracy-in-the-making. Between the burgeoning newspapers, raucous parades, partisan holiday celebrations, and disrespectful debating societies, the people out-of-doors seemed literally to be taking leave of their senses. Suddenly, everyone apparently felt entitled to express an opinion -- more, felt that "constituted authorities" should be listening to their views. . . . Federalist leaders were caught flat-footed, unsure how to cope with this confusing new world.
[via Instapundit]

Frank Rich on Target

Will We Need a New 'All the President's Men'?: "Like the Nixon administration before it, the current White House has kneecapped with impunity any news organization that challenges its message."

(Via The New York Times > Most E-mailed Articles.)

"Bush's no-nonsense, bull-rushing offensive style was simply smothered by a surprisingly strong Kerry."

Is the title above my assessment of the last debate? Sort of. Actually, it's how one Las Vegas boxing rag assessed the first Tyson-Holyfield fight. But it think it fits—I just switched the names. Sound ludicrous? Bear with me.

Many Big Media pundits covered the presidential debates with the argot of boxing, which is of course traditional. It's in fact a tradition that goes back to the beginning of democracy, to classical Athens. Several ancient writers make this comparison, including Plato who has his dramatic character Socrates describe arguments with sophists in pugilistic terms. The term "stasis," a term of art in Greek and Roman rhetoric (Cicero made much of it), refers to the specific issue on which a debater chooses to clash with his opponent; the term originated in Greek boxing, where it was a term of art indicating the stance a boxer took when the fighting began.

It's taken me a while to understand what sort of fight this has been. Kerry clearly had a strategy that spanned the three debates. While Bush approached each debate like it was a different bout, trying out different strategies in each, Kerry looked like he was fighting three, albeit long and grueling, rounds. And he stuck to his game.

The whole thing, all three debates taken as one, reminds me of that 1996 title bout between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, where Holyfield took the WBA Heavyweight belt. In the rematch, you'll recall, a frustrated and deranged Tyson bit the top of his opponent's ear off, summarily disqualifying himself, and more or less ending his career. But the first fight was the really interesting one, and it bears some similarity to what we've seen over the last couple weeks.

At the time of the first fight, Tyson had never had to go more than 10 rounds in a single bout. Like Bush, he was a no-nonsense straight ahead figher; and like Bush, he was used to winning. But on that November night in Las Vegas, things changed. Holyfield, a boxer with a good record but hardly an exciting fighter, and not an especially charismatic media figure, changed things.

In 1996 it was easy to like Mike. And in some ways it's easy to like W., who is similarly capable of childlike, or childish, moments of self-revelation which under some circumstances are not hard to find endearing. But this should not lull us into forgetting that both fighters, Tyson the boxer and Bush the orator, bring a focused brutality to bear in their respective arts.

Bush's "you can run but you can't hide" is pure bull-rushing braggadocio, and his ad hominem attacks—"can't trust him," "has no credibility," "most liberal senator in Washington," etc.—are the stuff of a brawler. You could see Bush crouching, waiting for Kerry to convolute himself with some sophisticated combination, or open himself up gangly-like with another phrase like "global test," so that Bush could rush in and uncoil some of those sharp, patriotic uppercuts.

But when Bush came charging, Kerry managed to tie him up, and even push him around a little bit. The pundits wanted to see a knockout, a brawl, and certainly if things had gone that way Bush would have won. Bush is a debater who thrives on aggression, which is why, when he's being outclassed in the ring, he reverts, as he did even tonight in many of his answers, to the emphatic epithet, when more artful combinations are not landing. Much has been made of Kerry's "serenity" in these debates, his "Zen-like" demeanor. And that again reminds me of Holyfield, who didn't allow Tyson to drag him into a brawl, who didn't take the bait, who fought a smart, if unglamorous, fight—a fight to win.

Holyfield the boxer knew he had better stuff, and he knew that his opponent would bluster and charge. He respected Tyson well enough to know that he needed to stay crisp, nothing too fancy, and tie him up on the inside. Kerry the debater was equally skillful, workmanlike, and he didn't indulge in sustained circumspection, respecting his opponent's facility for cutting into slack or indulgent rhetorical gestures. It paid off. Glamorous? No. Satisfying to Big Media bloodlust? No? But maybe just good enough to garner the, let's hope undisputed, title three weeks from now.

Wednesday, October 13

More Human Rights Violations

Yet more troubling news about they way the government is dealing with "detainees."

Another Bush Triumph for the Rule of Law:

Great news from Human Rights Watch! Your constitutional republic at work spreading the Rule of Law around the world!

U.S.: Detained al-Qaeda Suspects ‘Disappeared’ (Human Rights Watch, 12-10-2004): At least 11 al-Qaeda suspects have “disappeared” in U.S. custody, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. U.S. officials are holding the detainees in undisclosed locations, where some have reportedly been tortured.

The 46-page report, “The United States’ ‘Disappeared’: The CIA’s Long-Term ‘Ghost Detainees,’” describes how the Central Intelligence Agency is holding al-Qaeda suspects in “secret locations,” reportedly outside the United States, with no notification to their families, no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross or oversight of any sort of their treatment, and in some cases, no acknowledgement that they are even being held.

“‘Disappearances’ were a trademark abuse of Latin American military dictatorships in their ‘dirty war’ on alleged subversion,” said Reed Brody, special counsel with Human Rights Watch. “Now they have become a United States tactic in its conflict with al-Qaeda.”

Oh goodie, the US joins the proud company of the USSR and fascist latin dictatorships. We are so proud.


Our First Cyborg President

More "Bush is wired" speculations, with new pictures.

Earpiece: "Salon has another story on Bush's possible earpiece, including a new picture with the alien symbiote attached to his spine.

Oddly, I've long thought Bush was wired, though I haven't found the "hump" to be convincing evidence of this. Some odd verbal gaffes, a few strange audio hiccups, and especially his "pause. speak. pause. speak." speaking style seemed to suggest it. But, thinking it isn't proof and I don't claim there is any.

But, in truth the real question is not if Bush has an earpiece but what he does with it. It seems pretty reasonable for the CiC to have an earpiece for various reasons, such as discreet access to information in case of an emergency situation. Since the technology makes this more than possible now, I wouldn't mind at all knowing that there's instant access to the presidential ear in time of crisis. But, tt isn't reasonable to use it as an audioprompter for speeches, press conferences, and debates. That would be a scandal."

(Via Eschaton.)

Monday, October 11

Dialog on Economics: Keynes vs. Supply-Side

[J's comments in red; mine in black.]

W has reported Dave's opinion that no reputable economist subscribes to supply-side theory. Here's a link to the homepage of Robert Mundell, whose biography describes him as "a pioneer of the theory of the monetary and fiscal policy mix, the theory of inflation and interest, the monetary approach to the balance of payments, and the co-founder of supply-side economics." In 1999 Mundell received the Nobel Prize in economics in recognition for his having "established the foundation for the theory which dominates practical policy considerations of monetary and fiscal policy in open economies." Mundell was a colleague of the better-known supply-side advocate Arthur Laffer at Chicago. It's not surprising that university economics departments should have a leftist and statist bent, and this makes it the more remarkable that "the co-founder of supply-side economics" should receive international recognition for his work on the fiscal and monetary policies that sustain economic growth in open economies.

first of all, i never said that "no reputable economist" is a supply sider--rather that there are few left, especially after 1) david stockman and other reagan ideologues repudiated the doctrine in the mid-80's, a time when even reagan raised taxes; and 2) 8 fat years under non-supply-side clinton.

as far as mundell goes, rather than inundating you with the opinions of the majority of peer-reviewed macroeconomists, many of whom you might be ready to dismiss as liberal ivory tower statists, i'll just direct you to the nobel prize site itself, where you can read for yourself WHY mundell got the prize. let me spoil the surprise for you: contra the WSJ, it has nothing to do with his supply-side research that appeared in the autumn of his career, but with his well respected and ahead-of-its time analysis (begun in the 60's) of the globalization of investment capital and how monetary policy would have to change when money moved from country to country in response to interest rates and other factors.

What you said this morning is that the only place supply-siders can be found is in "cushy, ideologically driven think tanks" (which gives me license to disregard anything you ever forward from Brookings, etc.). In fact, the fellow who's half of the brain power behind supply-side theory is at the top of his profession. So perhaps we can get back to arguing the theory rather than citing how many experts support mine vs. yours.

Stockman was never a supply-sider, he was a deficit hawk. He grew disillusioned with Reagan when the old man persisted in the conviction that cutting tax rates was needed to revive the economy even if Congress couldn't be persuaded to cut spending to compensate for the initial revenue loss. When pushed to by deficit hawks in Congress, Reagan increased taxes but not income tax rates, however, which he continued to pull down, lowering the top rate from 70% in 1981 when he took office to 50% in 1983 to 28% in 1988. (Chief among the congressional hawks was Bob Dole, who ran as a tax cutter in 1996, and lost in part because this was clearly political opportunism on his part -- and in part because he was the worst Republican candidate since Alf Landon.) How many genuine supply-siders can you find who "repudiated the doctrine in the mid-80s"? Not Jack Kemp, e.g.

In 1997, Clinton cut the capital gains rate from 28% to 20 and eliminated taxes on home sales up to $500,000. Let's see -- were the stock and housing markets and federal revenue up or down after 1997?

I will be happy to get back to arguing theory with you, but I do think it is significant that there are very few professional economists on your side. From Aristotle to Cicero and beyond it has been perfectly acceptable when arguing about public matters, policy matters, to make arguments that appeal to authority on an issue—to logicians it may be a fallacy, but Aristotle and everyone after him in the rhetorical tradition considered such appeals to be a perfectly acceptable part of practical reasoning. Especially since you and I are not professional economists, it is important to pay attention to sources of authority on the matter when evaluating claims, and your sources are suspect. You and I both have a stake in the open, peer-reviewed system of knowledge discovery that is academia. I'm sure we would both be a bit suspicious of a medical journal that was sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb. Many of your supply-side experts are on the payroll, in one way or another. And don't try to make a straw man from my earlier hyperbole. I know that you can point to a handful of independent professional economists who are still supply-siders—but there are precious few of them, and that, I think, is significant.

Supply-siders would like to believe that their theory is the product of academic study. But it's not. It was born in partisan political magazines, not professional journals. While there are many professional economists who support tax cuts, few of them do so on supply-side grounds. Instead, most of them fall into the category of those who want government to be smaller, and don't believe, as supply-siders do, that by cutting taxes the economy will grow to such a degree that tax revenue will rise to levels that will match or exceed levels under a higher tax scheme. Even Bush's own economic advisors are not naive enough to believe in supply-side theory. N. Gregory Mankiw, the Harvard economist who is currently chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, described Reagan's supply-side advisers as incompetent and unscrupulous. And the head of the Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who was chosen by Bush, reported last year that spending cuts would be needed to offset lost revenue from Bush's tax cuts: in other words, no supply-side effects would compensate for the cuts. Finally, there's Irving Kristol, who in 1995 admitted that he supported supply-side theory because of its "political possibilities," even though he doubted its "economic merits."

Now to the Reagan years. The problem with looking at the growth under Reagan as proof of supply-side theory is that the data don't show that Reagan's tax cuts had much to do with it. The test is whether the tax cuts produced more growth in the economy than occurs during a normal business cycle recovery. Between 1979 and 1989, the growth rate was 3%. But between 1973 and 1979 the growth rate was...(drum roll)...3%. Hard to find confirmation of supply-side theory there.

Okay, now to Clinton, since you brought him into this. Here's the part of the Clinton story that's the relevant one for testing supply-side theory. 1989 the top 1% of families were taxed at the rate (federal taxes) of 28.9%. By 1995, under Clinton, that rate had risen to 36.1% With such an increase in the marginal tax rate on high-income tax payers, supply-siders predicted doom. But of course what we got was lower unemployment, a budget surplus, and a rate of growth in productivity not seen in decades.

The point is not that tax cuts are bad--they can do some good things including stimulating demand, since more people with more money in their pockets can buy more stuff. But supply-side theory, which as I understand it states that if top marginal tax rates are reduced then the potential loss of tax revenue will be offset by growth in the economy, is at best a theory that the data don't support, and at worst an ideological dogma which tries to pass for a credible economics theory (eg. Keynesian theory) in the eyes of intelligent and reputable people like yourself.

Our exchange reminds of a quip: "Chemistry came from alchemy, astronomy came from astrology -- what do you suppose will ever come from economics?" I note a site that complains (from the left) that academic economics "has increasingly become an intellectual game played for its own sake and not for its practical consequences for understanding the economic world" and advances a corrective approach; supply-side theory could be described as a comparable protest from the right. It's the creation not of politicians but of two academics, Robert Mundell and Arthur Laffer. It's not their fault that politicians found the theory persuasive and so moved to implement it, rather than waiting for academic economists to impartially consider the theory in learned journals (fat chance -- one might as well wait for the JFK School of Government to endorse the Bush pre-emption doctrine). Not that supply-side hasn't received academic support against the grain, as the column I'm forwarding indicates, citing the International Monetary Fund and Nobel laureate Robert Lucas (Univ. of Chicago). Mundell's basic paper on supply-side dates from 1962; just so we're clear, Mundell's argument about the effects of lowering tax rates dates from the same period as his Nobel-winning work and isn't something he came upon in his dotty retiirement. The problems he tends to look at concern the effects on capital of shifts in exchange rates (which lead to flows of capital from country to country) and monetary and fiscal policy (which affect the value of the return on capital put at risk).

Mundell and Laffer advanced a corrective to Keynesian economics that can be summed up in three words as "Individual incentives matter," including the incentives created (intentionally and unintentionally) by the tax code. The insight they worked out was already nicely stated in 1946 by Henry Hazlitt (called by H. L. Mencken "one of the few economists who could really write"): "When a corporation loses a hundred cents of every dollar it loses, and is permitted to keep only fifty-two cents of every dollar it gains, and when it cannot adequately offset its years of losses against its years of gains, its policies are affected. It does not expand its operations, or it expands only those that are attended with a minimum of risk. People who recognize this situation are deterred from starting new enterprises. Thus old employers do not give more employment, or not as much more as they might have; and others decide not to become employers at all. Improved machinery and better-equipped factories come into existence much more slowly than they otherwise would. The result in the long run is that consumers are prevented from getting better and cheaper products to the extent that they otherwise would, and that real wages are held down, compared with what they might have been.

"There is a similar effect when personal incomes are taxed 50, 60, or 70 percent [the top bracket when Hazlitt wrote]. People begin to ask themselves why they should work six, eight, or nine months of the entire year for the government, and only six, four, or three months for themselves and their families. If they lose the whole dollar when they lose, but can keep only a fraction of it when they win, they decided that it is foolish to take risks with their capital. In addition, the capital available for risk-taking itself shrinks enormously. It is being taxed away before it can be accumulated. In brief, capital to provide new jobs is first prevented from coming into existence, and the part that does come into existence is then discouraged from starting new enterprises" (ECONOMICS IN ONE LESSON, p. 38).

Modern economies are hugely complex, and so is the effect of government fiscal policy on them. I can see all sorts of argument about the effects of a particular change in income tax rates. What I can't see is ignoring the effects on incentives that Hazlitt describes. Considering such effects in the formulation of fiscal policy is what supply-side theory calls for. So if you have an economy yielding $10 billion of annual personal income and a presidential candidate proposes to cut taxes from 50% to 25%, a static Keynesian analysis will warn that thus reducing tax rates will cut government revenues by half. A supply side theorist will point out that since the individuals earning the income will now keep 75% of their earnings rather than 50%, they will have an incentive to produce more, and this increased productivity will offset the amount of revenue that is lost when the rate is lowered. In the event that the economy doubles its output to $20 billion, the government will lose no revenue from the income tax at all (since 25% of $20 billion yields the same $5 billion that the government heretofore extracted from a $10 billion economy).

Peer review is a function of Kuhn's "normal science" and tends to ensure that contributions to learned discussion don't neglect the conventional wisdom of a discipline (the regnant paradigm, in Kuhnspeak). When a disciplinary revolution occurs and an alternative is proposed to the paradigm that defines normality, the reaction of entrenched interests is an unreliable indicator of the value of the proposed paradigm shift. So it's not surprising if economists developing a fifth-generation Keynesian paradigm don't rush to embrace a radical alternative to it, and I don't think that circumstance tells us anything much about the model's validity. I would suggest there's a moral case for the policy as well as a "green eyeshade" defense: if government expenditures can be funded by a less intrusive levy than currently exists in a society (one that empowers the government less), it's in the interest of individual liberty that the state begin to do so. I would think a guy with a libertarian streak vis-à-vis banned substances etc. would see the desirability of this. Maybe if it were someone besides Jack Kemp and me arguing for it.

It is not a matter of controversy that when people are taxed too much they don't invest. That's common knowledge, even among Keynesians. If THAT is supply-side theory then anyone with half a brain must be a supply-sider. The issue is whether marginal tax cuts, by spurring investment, will generate enough revenue to pay for themselves. And that is what the data have not shown. I'll be generous here: there are a lot of variables involved, and just because the data haven't shown it yet doesn't mean they never will. But until they do, I'll remain, like the majority of academic economists as well as President Bush's most important economic advisors (e.g., N. Gregory Mankiw and Douglas Holtz-Eakin), a skeptic.

On to the Laffer Curve....

No one denies that what the Laffer curve shows is true, that at both extremes of the curve--at a 0% tax rate and at a 100% tax rate--the government collects no money! The basic concept is nothing new--it was pointed out by the classical French economist Frederic Bastiat in the 19th Century (and as you mention by Henry Hazlitt in 1946, and by others). What is under dispute at any given moment is the rate of taxation at which maximum revenue can be generated (known as "the optimal tax rate"). During the Reagan years when supply-siders rose to prominence, many congressional Repubs as well as, yes, Dems also, believed that government was taxing on the right side of the curve--the region to the right of the optimal tax rate, where higher tax rates result in lower tax revenue. Even at the time, when there was something of a congressional consensus about this, there were also many skeptics including the vast majority of professional economists in addition to, as we learned later, some of Reagan's own advisors (e.g. Stockman). Several careful studies that appeared at the time argued that, on the basis of analyses of historical tax rate data, the government was in fact taxing well on the left side of the curve.

In researching for this email I found this interesting anecdote: In the 1980's, Nobel prize winning economist Paul Samuelson noticed that there was a consensus among professional economists that the optimal tax rate was no higher than 80%, and so speculated that Reagan's embrace of supply-side theory may have been a perfectly rational (though out-of-context) response to having been taxed (and having seen the effects of his peers being taxed) upwards of 90% during WWII. Worth pondering anyway.

And while Reagan, along with many of his advisors, was probably a true believer, I fear that supply-side theory is still used cynically by many conservatives in the way Stockman and Irving Kristol used it. Here is what Stockman said after he had broken with the other advisors: "The way they talked [Reagan's other advisors], they seemed to expect that once the supply-side tax cut was in effect, additional revenue would start to fall, manna-like, from the heavens. Since January, I had been explaining that there is no literal Laffer curve." Stockman admitted that he used supply-side theory as "a trojan horse for upper bracket tax cuts without economic justification." Stockman confessed that he painted an intentionally deceptive "Rosy Scenario" about tax revenues. Why? "The supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really 'trickle down.' Supply-side is 'trickle-down' theory."

A look at the founding fathers....

Here's what I have found out about the three inventors of Supply Side Theory (You mention Laffer and Mundell, though Wanninski I have found is just as important):

Laffer has a Ph. D. in economics from Stanford and served as an advisor to Reagan, but again, what I'm finding about Laffer is that his ideas weren't terribly original, and can be explained in terms of both classical and Keynesian theory. (To be fair, the supply-siders see themselves as recovering classical economic theory.)

Every source I can find says that Mundell won the Nobel for his work on fiscal policy and international exchange rates--the 1962 Mundell-Fleming model--not for his supply-side theories (see again the text of the Nobel announcement). And I can find no reference, outside of docs from the Heritage Foundation and similar sources, that the Mundell-Fleming model relies on or implies supply-side theory. (To be fair I have also learned that at his acceptance speech before the Noble jury Mundell did give a defense of supply-side theory.)

I've read a bit of online material about, and by, Jude Wanniski. Wanniski, as I've learned, who coined the term "Supply Side Economics" has never been a professional academic economist. He was an associate editor of the Wall Street Journal for several years and went on to found an online school in 1997, which he still runs, called "Supply Side University." Hmmm....

Back to the issues....

What accounted for the big increases in non-corporate tax revenues during Reagan's presidency--besides the effects of the business cycle also seen in earlier decades (cf. my earlier email)--was an increase in payroll tax revenue, not an increase in income tax revenue. The government saw a big increase in payroll tax revenue following the signing of the Social Security Reform Act of 1983 which increased payroll tax rates. I'm asking honestly here, what do Cato / Heritage Foundation economists say in response to this? In my (admittedly perfunctory) search of both of their websites I can't find an answer. For now, I see no supply-side effects. (One more thing. It's hard to take these supply-side researches--like the ones I've now read from Cato / Heritage Foundation--as serious social science when they continually employ terms like "tax relief" in place of "tax cut." Isn't it usually conservatives who blame liberals for politicizing every field of knowledge?

Now to corporate taxes. Corporate tax revenues fell sharply after Reagan's early corporate tax cuts. They did surge later, but that was only after the passage of the 1986 tax reform law that broadened the base of what corporations were taxed on. The 1986 law closed loopholes, removed many tax-shelters, limited depreciation deductions, and eliminated the investment tax credit. Hard to see supply-side effects here either.

They way I see it, if you want to convince me (or any rational interlocutor) that supply-side theory is true, you still owe me the following:

1) An explanation of how tax revenue growth under Reagan can be attributed to supply-side policy in light of

a) what we know historically about normal business cycles,

b) the two major tax increases during the Reagan years that I detail above.

2) An explanation of how it is that both GNP and tax revenues increased at a higher rate under Clinton than under Reagan, despite increases in taxes.

3) An explanation of why Bush's tax cuts have not produced supply-side effects. (Supply-siders blamed the Fed [and Congress of course] for bad things that happened under Reagan, but this time around the Fed has supported Bush's policies. So what gives?)

Paradigm Shifts....

As far as your observation about Kuhn and paradigms goes, I accept in principle that it is difficult to determine how a scientific theory will fare when there are entrenched institutional players and professional stakes involved, but I'd be surprised to see a paradigm shift on account of supply-side theory. I'll be happy to be proven wrong. But historically most scientific paradigm shifts have been opposed by larger political forces, the Catholic Church for example. Supply-side theory is largely promulgated by the corporate plutocracy, and so seems not so much paradigm shifting to me as reactionary. The supply-siders themselves claim that their mission is to recover the supply-side orientation of classical economics (they cite both Smith and Marx). So it seems to me they are attempting, if you'll allow the analogy, a sort of pre-Copernican restoration.

Sunday, October 10

Shameless Reblogging

This is pretty much how I feel about the 2nd presidential debate:

A Lively Interpretation....

One of the many memorable and insightful shticks that the late great standup comic Bill Hicks was one he performed soon after the Rodney King-LA Police community relations encounter. His take on the trial of one of the officers involved, an Officer Koons, (on which Mr. Hicks commented, "I swear. I could never have invented a name like that."), went something like this:

Judge (J): "Mr. Koons. How do you plead?"
Officer Koons (OK): "Innocent, your honor."

The jury gasped. They shook in fear and astonishment. There were witnesses! There was a video tape of the beating! This man has such chutzpah! He needs a wheelbarrow to cart his cojones around! He has incredible balls!

J: "Innocent?! And how do you make this claim? We have a video tape! We have witnesses."
OK: "Well, your honor, it all depends on how you look at it."
J: "How you look at it? And how do you propose we should look at it, Officer Koooooons?"
OK: "Well, like I said. It all depends how you look at it. See, if you play that video in reverse, it looks like I'm helping him (Rodney King) up off the street, And then, you see, I'm helping him into his car. Heck, I'm even waving him off. See, it all depends on how you look at things.

The second presidential debates took place tonight. With minimal recall cells active in my head at this time of the night, only two things stuck out.

1) Dubya's need to have the last dig overwhelmed any of the proper and civil manners that his parents had tried to drum into him. At one point in the exchanges with John Kerry, when Bush had his last ALLOWABLE say on an issue, Bush, shaking with ill-concealed anger, strode to the center of the stage, ignored the moderator's (Charles Gibson) repeated instructions that his allotted time was used up, and garbled something in anger for 20-30 seconds. I wish I could recall what he'd said; at least to see if the verbiage matched the emotions and the issue at hand. Physical violence actually seemed possible.

2) What speechifying I did remember of the President was his interpretation of the release of the CIA's findings that there were no WMD's in Iraq, nor any evidence of any in the past 4-5 years. How he was able to say, with that tightly drawn straight face, to those "town meeting" folks that he welcomed the report since it proved his point about the future intent of Saddam Hussein, irregardless of any physical proof now would have made Bill Hicks choke on his cigarette. Regardless of what other folks may say, I think George Bush has improved in office. Perhaps not grown into the office; those shoes are just too big. But you have to give him credit in developing that fine art of political twisting.

Even Bill Hicks, wherever he is now, would have appreciated it. You know Officer Koons is wondering if he'll be receiving a consulting fee for that lesson.

Yep, it all depends simply on how you look at it.

(Via Verging on Pertinence.)

Yeah we do....

When he's 64: David Pescovitz: gruen-john-lennon-nyc-2801082Happy Birthday. We miss you.

(Via Boing Boing Blog.)

Wednesday, October 6

VP Debate (One & Only)

I just got back from Marymount Manhattan College where I watched the VP debate in the student union. Usually VP debates are more low-key, collegial even. This one was several degrees more antagonistic than that, but the sense of tension and gravity that attended upon last week's presidential debate wasn't there. Who won? I'd call it a draw. Tonight it was the CEO vs. the trial lawyer, and in both style and substance, the two mostly stayed in character.

Edwards smiled that big warm smile, made expansive gestures towards the camera—as if towards a jury—and used a lot of pathos. Cheney sat as if at the head of a boardroom table, gesturing close to his body, rubbing his hands together for most of the evening. When on the attack he peered over the top of his glasses sideways, drawing his mouth into a semi-snarl. His language was heavy with logos, and later ethos.

But it wasn't that simple. In fact, there were two moments when Cheney's humanity took center stage and there was a sort of air of deep "private man" pathos. One was when Edwards shamelessly mentioned that Cheney loved his gay daughter—an Oprah moment, only it was clear that the point was not pop therapy but politics. Cheney was given 30 seconds to respond, and all he did was thank the Senator for the kind remarks about his family. I don't know if we were supposed to read this laconic response as "can you, the public, believe that this asshole brought my daughter into this?!", or alternatively, as an expression of his refusal to repeat the Administration's talking points on an issue where he is clearly "taking one for the team." Or both.

The other moment came in response to the moderator's question about AIDS in America, which actually seemed to catch both candidates off guard. They clearly had been schooled on AIDS globally, not in the US, and at the end of his response, Cheney admitted that he didn't know about the disparity in AIDS rates between African-American women and their counterparts. Should he have known? Of course. But when the same question next went to Edwards, who had the benefit of an extra 90 seconds to prepare, he talked about the Kerry-Edwards healthcare plan again, barely mentioning AIDS, and when he did his language was so contorted that it sounded as if he were saying that "preventative medicine" could prevent AIDS. In other words, he didn't come off as someone sounding like he took AIDS seriously. Does he? Probably, but his adherence to his talking points hurt him. Cheney at least admitted ignorance, and showed a bit of shame for it.

Cheney, the CEO, is clearly the more commanding presence. He got more words in, and his arguments were more fully structured. He rarely stumbled and he moved from point to point rapidly, always seeming to know where the argument was leading. It wasn't that Edwards didn't make arguments—it's just that they were top-heavy with big splashy claims. It wasn't that he didn't support those claims, but not in the workmanlike way that his opponent did. Nevertheless, Edwards, the trial lawyer, is undoubtedly the warmer human being, and he came across as the one who fights for the little guy.

This is the only VP debate so I will not conclude by offering advice to the debaters; I'll just summarize. Neither debater ever had his opponent on the ropes; both seemed more willing to score small points with ad hominem arguments, trading jabs about such things as skipped meetings and decades-old Congressional voting records. Edwards followed up on Kerry's successful defense against the charge of flip-floppery, and doubtless foreshadowed how Kerry will handle domestic policy questions in the next presidential debate. At times, however, Edwards didn't seem as focused as Cheney, and a bit boyish by contrast. Cheney was competent and sharp, but couldn't conceal an abiding mean-spiritedness. At moments he showed something like genuine humanity—would have helped if there had been more of those moments. Finally, Cheney made the smarter arguments for the war that Bush should have made last week against Kerry. Too bad for Bush that Cheney wasn't speaking into that little earpiece that Bush might have been wearing.

Friday, October 1

My Take on the First Debate

I think both Bush and Kerry did pretty well, both had especially good moments, and I wouldn't call one a clear winner. Kerry surprised me, early on, with his focus and his eagerness. He was ready for the charges of flip-floppery, and he met them rather effectively. Later in the debate he started to fade. He reverted at moments, mostly later on, and in his closing remarks, to that long-faced hollow cartoon of a statesman whose body seems to break into several elongated polygons, each obeying some different keplerian principle of motion while his voice bobs up and down on predictable little waves of inflection, conveying equally predictable truisms.

[One wonders at those moments when Kerry goes "bland cartoon" whether there isn't some quick, Gallic intelligence that he is suppressing—some great ball of nuance, the knowledge of some inscrutable web of causality that he sees but knows, in his brain of brains, that he can't tell us about; because if he were to try, the good ole boy at the other podium would smirk, and then smash his opponent's little menagerie of subtle thoughts with the blunt instruments of "faith" and "resolve."]

But there were many moments when Kerry, alternatively, looked younger than I've ever seen him, and hungrier, and sharper. He will never have that good ole boy cache of course, but he broke down his responses into trenchant points, hitting them again and again, and at moments the president seemed to be reeling.

Kerry used much more action-oriented language, more verbs and less verbiage than I've ever heard from him. He seemed smart without seeming wonkish or pedantic (Al Gore). One thing seems certain to me—the American voters have never heard Kerry's Iraq position defended with this gusto, and at times he made Bush's critique of that position (the flip-flop charges) sound downright "political."

Kerry did indeed "charge the beach" as some had predicted. He took Bush to task on the very issues (strong on homeland security, on hunting down terrorists, on nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea) that Bush sees as his issues. At moments Kerry managed to make Bush seem less like a strong commander in chief, a notable feat. By invoking the current and formal generals and civilian officials who oppose Bush's way of waging war, including a reference to why Bush pere refused to go into Baghdad over a decade ago, Kerry made Bush fils sound, as my friend Jim just IM'd from Austin, like "it's just him and the Rove machine." And Kerry's line about how the president had "outsourced the job [of catching Bin Laden] to Afghan warlords" was a cheap rhetorical gut punch that even Rove must have admired.

Now to Bush. Bush started slowly, faltering and stopping to recover his place. We all expected this; doesn't usually hurt him in the view of his core audiences for reasons that are well known. I thought that his expressions while listening to Kerry were vintage "exasperated chimp." One wonders what goes through his mind. He looks incredibly vulnerable to me in these moments, but then he takes the floor and the language comes...haltingly, but it comes nonetheless, and he recovers his cadence and confidence.

I think he got stronger as the debate moved to its latter stages, and his closing statement easily trumped Kerry's. Even the "word searches" that Bush performed several times (pausing, looking down, awkward silences) don't seem to hurt him much. In fact, we hang on his every word because we don't know what's going to come next, or if he's going to be able to maintain coherency. Of course he usually does. While he's not capable of those nicely nested clauses that Kerry windsurfs across with his baritone warble, he does find a word that fits his purposes; and even if it's an alternative word that injures eloquence, it rarely does harm to his meaning.

Bush sounds sincere because it is sincerely hard for him to focus and produce connected sentences. The edges of his sentences and clauses are not well shaped and one suspects something similar of his thoughts. His arguments don't flow from premises to evidence to conclusions. He starts not with an assessment of the empirical data, but with a scrutiny of his own "heart"; or his "heart of hearts" where reside his "core beliefs." What arguments there are circulate around that heart.

Neither speaker can display empathy convincingly, like Reagan or Clinton. Kerry is smart to not even try. Bush tries, and he may score points with evangelicals for his conspicuous remark about praying with a bereaved widow, but he doesn't get any points for telling the story in a heartfelt way. It seems to me that Bush's heart, which he invokes often, is not the malleable heart of one who feels what others feel, but the resolute heart of a warrior who knows his cause is just. He is passionate, more so than Kerry (before tonight anyway), but it is a passion more apt to display sanguinity than sympathy.

My advice for Kerry for next week:

Keep up the pace and the focus (make that water a "smart" water—it's all clear in the bottle). And don't ever, ever, ever, give Bush ammunition like "pass the global test"! Using phrases like that plays to one of Bush's strengths. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says it best:
Where he [Bush] was strong were those few times in which he mobilized what I think is one of his true strengths: an ability to keep his ears open to turns of phrase which can be used against his opponent, ones that allow him to cast himself as a no-nonsense tough-guy and his opponent as either feckless or weak. To me, it's an ear for the cadence of a rancid populism. But that's a subjective view. The relevant point is that it is a strength.
So again, don't give him the ammo!
My advice for Bush for next week:

Keep hitting the points about Kerry sending mixed messages to both troops and terrorists. Also, the public doesn't expect you to be perfect, but people do expect you to level with them. And the standard refrains of "the world is safer without Saddam," and "we must never forget the lessons of 911" (and variants of that), are not going to always satisfy the public's desire for argument and justification. There are smarter arguments for why you did what you did. Use them.

Sunday, August 29

NYC Protest

Well I decided not to march in the demonstration here today, because I just don't feel up to it, though I do support those who are doing so. And I've decided not to blog about the protests because there's not much for me to add. But I did just have a neat experience. I'm sitting, as I write this, on a bench in Central Park, on the corner of Park Ave. and 75th. St. A group of protesters just walked by and stopped to ask me about my laptop. I explained that I was pinching a wireless internet connection from across the street, and they began to ask me about news of the protest. I went to the NYT online and they circled around my laptop and we read about, well, them. They pointed to the pictures and gave me commentary, and they were very interested in the numbers of protesters (as of now the careful NYT has it only as "hundreds of thousands"). Very cool moment.