Archive

February 4th, 2016

Why the golden age of growth is behind us

    This is the first of two excerpts from "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War," published this month by Princeton University Press. The second will explain the implications of all this for the next quarter century.

    Can future innovations match the great inventions of the past? Will artificial intelligence, robots, 3D printing and other offspring of the digital revolution do for economic growth what the second industrial revolution did between 1920 and 1970? The techno-optimist school of economics says yes. I disagree.

    The rise in the U.S. standard of living from 1870 to 1970 was a special century -- and won't likely be repeated. Growth over the next quarter century will resemble the slow pace of 2004-2015, not the faster growth rate of 1994-2004, much less the rapid rate achieved between 1920 and 1970.

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What this politically (in)correct campaign tell us

    "Political correctness" may be the most intriguing issue to emerge in the current presidential election cycle, especially for Republicans. Yet it also may be the most under-discussed, perhaps out of fear that it would not be politically correct to do so.

    In Friday's Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to use the diplomatically inflammatory term "Islamic terrorism" and then attacked "political correctness" as if he had not been practicing a conservative version of PC against Obama.

    Earlier, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sarcastically tweeted about his least-favorite Fox News anchor, "I refuse to call Meghan Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct."

    What is PC? A mostly pejorative term to describe language, rules and policies intended to avoid offending particular groups in society.

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The three delusions driving the Cruz and Sanders campaigns

    Ted Cruz is the Bernie Sanders of the Republican race, and Bernie Sanders the Ted Cruz of the Democratic race. No matter how you look at it, three delusions drive both candidates' campaign narratives.

    Delusion Number 1: We will transform the country, uniting it behind an expansive agenda that will move the nation's politics sharply away from center. The country must see that it agrees with us and has all along.

    "All across this country, millions of people rose up and became the Reagan revolution," Cruz said to an overflowing hotel auditorium in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday, citing a moment in which a Republican who was called too conservative converted a generation of working-class Democrats. "The same thing is happening again. All over this country people are waking up."

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Sanders' supporters ignore the lessons of Obama

    The sobering reality of Barack Obama's presidency has been the difficulty of achieving the change that he promised. The surprising development of the 2016 campaign is the degree to which a large segment of Democratic voters, at least in the early voting states, appear to have forgotten or rejected that lesson.

    They seem willing to entrust their hopes of retaining the presidency to a candidate envisioning change far more radical than anything Obama ever dangled before them.

    Bernie Sanders' voters remind me of women who, once the baby is delivered, instantly forget the pain of childbirth and are prepared to do it all over again. Except that this analogy fails when it comes to the question of ultimate payoff. Why would voters, after watching Obama's excruciating experience with congressional Republicans, believe that Sanders could deliver his promised "political revolution"?

    For all the fevered Obama-is-a-socialist rhetoric of Republican imaginings, the facts remain that he ran -- and has governed -- largely as a rather centrist, pragmatist Democrat. Sanders is an actual socialist.

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February 3rd

Her Father Shot Her in the Head, as an ‘Honor Killing’

    Whether it wins or not, the Oscar nominee with the greatest impact — saving lives of perhaps thousands of girls — may be one you’ve never heard of.

    It stars not Leonardo DiCaprio but a real-life 19-year-old Pakistani woman named Saba Qaiser. Her odyssey began when she fell in love against her family’s wishes and ran off to marry her boyfriend. Hours after the marriage, her father and uncle sweet-talked her into their car and took her to a spot along a riverbank to murder her for her defiance — an “honor killing.”

    First they beat Saba, then her uncle held her as her own father pointed a pistol at her head and pulled the trigger. Blood spewed, Saba collapsed and her father and uncle packed her body into a large sack and threw it into the river to sink. They then drove away, thinking they had restored the family’s good name. 

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Jobs are under attack, but not by robots

    This is the second of two excerpts from "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War," published this month by Princeton University press.

    Does the last decade's slow growth in total factor productivity, which measures innovation, indicate that the dot-com revolution of 1994 to 2004 is unlikely to be repeated? How fast will the U.S. economy grow over the next 25 years?

    Not as fast as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee assert. As techno-optimists, they believe the U.S. is at an inflection point between a past of slow technological change and a future of rapid advances. They remind us that Moore's Law predicts endless exponential growth in the performance of computer chips, yet ignore that chips have fallen behind the predicted pace of Moore's Law since 2005.

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Iowa’s Black Caucusgoers

    On Monday, Iowans will become the first people in the nation to officially express their choices for the next president of the United States.

    But what interested me in particular was that a subset of those voters will be black. And since black voters in national polls are overwhelmingly Democratic and overwhelming prefer Hillary Clinton to her rivals, it seemed important to explore how these voters are processing this election cycle and its candidates.

    Over three days in Des Moines — from Friday to Sunday — I interviewed more than 30 black people, and spoke briefly to many more at a black church, a black-owned barbershop, a popular soul food restaurant and at African-American social events.

    My first impression from these conversations was that there existed a staggering level of ambivalence and absence of enthusiasm. A surprising number of people said they were undecided and started an answer with the clause, “If I had to choose ...”

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Bush's journey from front-runner to straggler

    The biggest stories of this young political year are the surprising surges of the outsider presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Close behind is the possible collapse of the once-formidable front- runner, Jeb Bush.

    Only a year ago, the Washington cognoscenti, the less politically sophisticated big donors and the London oddsmakers all figured that the son and brother of presidents was a solid favorite to clinch the Republican nomination. Six months ago, the former Florida governor thought he had a real shot at winning Iowa, the first nominating contest. Yet as the state's voters prepare to gather for the traditional caucuses on Monday night, he barely registers in the polls.

    There is already a debate in Republican circles over what went wrong: Was he just a bad candidate? Was he ill-served by the chief strategist of the richly funded Bush super-PAC? Or was this just a bad year for any establishment figure?

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What a true cancer 'moonshot' entails

    Like many oncologists and cancer researchers, I rolled my eyes when I first heard about Vice President Biden's cancer "moonshot," but not because of the noble goal. I was among the many people who were deeply sorry to hear about the death of the vice president's son Beau from cancer last year. And I, too, have mourned the untimely deaths from the disease of people close to me. Those of us who care for cancer patients would give nearly anything to be able to cure all those with cancer or, at a minimum, to greatly extend their lives. Today, we can sometimes do this, but sadly those circumstances remain far too limited.

    But a cancer moonshot evokes a sense of deja vu. The 1970s ushered in the War on Cancer, which was largely unsuccessful at generating better treatments. In 2003, it was then-National Cancer Institute head Andrew Von Eschenbachassuring then-Sen. Arlen Specter that, for just $600 million a year, we could rid the world of cancer five years ahead of 2015, the target at that time. Now here were Biden and the Obama administration making another tall promise. Did we really need this again?

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The GOP’s Holy War

    In the final, furious days of campaigning here, it was sometimes hard to tell whether this state’s Republicans were poised to vote for a president or a preacher, a commander or a crusader.

    The references to religion were expansive. The talk of it was excessive. A few candidates didn’t just profess the supposed purity of their own faith. They questioned rivals’ piety, with Ted Cruz inevitably leading the way.

    A rally of his devolved into an inquisition of Donald Trump. Speakers mocked Trump’s occasional claims of devout Christianity. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, pointedly recalled Trump’s admission last summer that he never really does penance.

    Cruz, in contrast, “probably gets up every morning and asks God for forgiveness at least a couple of times, even before breakfast,” Perry told the audience.

    The evangelist or the apostate: That’s how the choice was framed. And it underscored the extent to which the Iowa caucuses have turned into an unsettling holy war.

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