Archive

November 26th, 2016

Even Donald Trump believes that Keynes got it right

    What does the election of Donald Trump mean for macroeconomics? Above all else, it means that the half-century-long challenge to Keynesian ideas is over. The insurgents lost.

    First, some background. During the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes suggested that government spending would boost the economy, by increasing aggregate demand. In a recession, there are unused resources -- empty offices, idle factories and unemployed people sitting around at home. This obviously means an economy is producing less than it could; if someone just took the unemployed people and put them in the empty offices, output would go up.

    For Keynes, that someone was the government. Handing out money, whether through tax rebates or (preferably) infrastructure projects, would prompt people to spend that money, which would prompt other people to spend the money in turn, creating a virtuous cycle. Spend enough government cash, and you could put all of society's unused resources to work, ending a recession. This was the theory of fiscal stimulus.

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America: More polarized, more inclusive

    If you're despondent over the election, consider this reminder from F. Scott Fitzgerald: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

    The "opposed ideas" we need to juggle simultaneously concern who we are as Americans - a multiracial, multicultural nation coming to terms with our galloping diversity, or an us-against-them nation more torn apart by race, age, gender, geography, immigrant status and socioeconomic circumstance than at any time in living memory.

    That second idea has had a triumphant 2016. But it hasn't repealed the first idea. Twenty- first-century America is growing more polarized and more inclusive at the same time.

    The ugly aftermath of a toxic political campaign isn't the easiest moment to celebrate the kumbaya half of our two-sided coin. It's especially dicey to do so using data from public opinion surveys, given polling's many misfires in this election. Nevertheless, let me try.

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A risky bet on the climate

    President-elect Donald Trump has already begun to back off some of his promises: Maybe not all of Obamacare has to go. Maybe parts of his wall will actually be a fence. Maybe it's OK to have some lobbyists running the government after all.

    But I fear he won't shrink from the actions he has promised on climate change: withdrawing the United States from the Paris accord, ending President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan and OK'ing every new fossil-fuel plan from the Keystone XL pipeline on down. He won't back down because those are hard-to-hedge choices and because he's surrounded by climate-change deniers and fossil-fuel insiders who will try to ensure that he keeps his word.

    So let's be entirely clear about what those actions would represent: the biggest, most against-the-odds and most irrevocable bet any president has ever made about anything.

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White supremacist doesn't belong in White House

    If you even entertained the thought that Donald Trump in the White House would be different from Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Or, if after the campaign was over, you were hoping to discover a kinder, gentler Donald Trump who'd work with both parties in Congress to get things done...

    Fuggedaboutit! He's still the same shallow, yet obnoxious, insulting and obscene flame-thrower we saw during the primaries, as proven by his very first act as president-elect: naming Steve Bannon as his chief strategist in the White House.

    If there's any doubt about what Donald Trump stands for, there's no doubt about Steve Bannon. As noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, America's chief watchdog on hate-crimes, under Bannon's leadership of the Breitbart News website, "the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Race-baiting ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-Immigrant ideas. All key tenants making up an emerging racist ideology known as the 'Alt-Right.'" Last July, Bannon himself proudly described Breitbart News to journalist Sarah Posner as "the platform of the alt-right."

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The Medicare Killers

    During the campaign, Donald Trump often promised to be a different kind of Republican, one who would represent the interests of working-class voters who depend on major government programs. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he declared, under the headline “Why Donald Trump Won’t Touch Your Entitlements.”

    It was, of course, a lie. The transition team’s point man on Social Security is a longtime advocate of privatization, and all indications are that the incoming administration is getting ready to kill Medicare, replacing it with vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance. Oh, and it’s also likely to raise the age of Medicare eligibility.

    So it’s important not to let this bait-and-switch happen before the public realizes what’s going on.

    Three points in particular need to be made as loudly as possible.

    First, the attack on Medicare will be one of the most blatant violations of a campaign promise in history.

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November 25th

The messy politics of repealing Obamacare

    Donald Trump and Republicans are about to encounter a political nightmare: unraveling Obamacare.

    Already there are tensions between Trump, who's been shaky on the specifics of the 2010 health-care law and says he wants to keep the popular parts, and congressional leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and conservative think tanks who ideologically, almost theologically, oppose anything associated with the Affordable Care Act.

    They're going to get squeezed in a political vise. The Republican base demands that the Affordable Care Act be repealed, but most voters have more nuanced ideas. Polls consistently show that while a plurality of voters disapproves of the law, big majorities want to keep some provisions and care more about issues like rising drug prices.

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For a better White House, have fewer appointees

    When President-elect Donald Trump visited the White House last week, he was reportedly surprised to learn that he'll need to replace nearly the entire staff. While Trump is said to have promised jobs to his small campaign team, research suggests that he should try a revolutionary approach to staffing his administration: replacing political appointees with civil servants.

    Today, an incoming U.S. president must fill about 4,000 jobs -- double the number from the mid-20th century. While political appointments remain a tiny fraction of the federal workforce, America stands in marked contrast to nearly every other mature democracy. For example, an incoming British prime minister, German chancellor or French president would make 100 to 200 appointments.

    The conventional wisdom among political operatives is that presidents should place appointees in key positions because they'll be more loyal than civil servants. But research suggests this isn't true.

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A political amateur hour

    As the Donald Trump transition team labors in secret toward creating the next national administration, the news media are groping (if you'll pardon the expression) to find out who the president-elect will be relying on to run domestic and foreign policy for the next four years.

    His selection of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to be his White House chief of staff tells us only that his choice will continue to be chief enabler, as he was in the campaign. Priebus accommodatingly soothed hurt feelings among the party doubters as Trump rode roughshod over them.

    More worrisome is Trump's choice as chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, late the boss of the Breitbart News website. It is the vitriolic ultraconservative voice of what Bannon has called "the platform for the alt-right," apparently as the alternative to the safe and sane old Republican Party now in shambles.

    Bannon, in contrast to Priebus, seems to be an enabler of Trump's darker side, encouraging him in using his arsenal of slurs and insults of women, blacks, Muslims and various other racial and ethnic minorities.

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Wishful thinking on the president-elect

    If they gave Pulitzer Prizes for pithiness, journalist Salena Zito's analytical couplet on the surprise winner of Campaign 2016 would get one. The press took Republican Donald Trump "literally, but not seriously," she wrote, whereas Trump's supporters took him "seriously, but not literally."

    Exactly. Hence it was disappointing, after a post-election week in which he had otherwise epitomized calm statesmanship, to hear that President Barack Obama doesn't get Zito's point.

    Of Trump, the president opined: "I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately he's pragmatic in that way."

    In other words, Obama takes the president-elect neither literally nor seriously. Rather, he clings to the notion, or jumps to the conclusion, that Trump has no core policy beliefs, and therefore might be managed, or constrained, by political realities.

    This is a normal and, under the circumstances, perhaps inevitable - indeed, possibly correct - assessment. But what if Obama's take is erroneous?

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Welcome to the Trump kleptocracy

    "It's very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it," Donald Trump said back in 2000 when he was contemplating a bid that he never followed through on. And while he didn't actually turn a profit on his 2016 run, it's looking more and more likely that being president is going to be very lucrative for Trump. By the time it's over, he may even be worth as much as he has always claimed to be.

    The words "conflict of interest" don't begin to describe what the Trump administration is shaping up to look like - though there will be plenty of conflicts of interest with administration figures such as Rudy Giuliani, who made millions from foreign governments and corporations, some of which are hostile to the United States. But the real action is going to be in Trump's own family.

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