Archive

January 24th, 2016

Why U.S. stopped being a startup nation

    For years, economists have been warning that something seems very wrong with the fundamentals of the U.S. economy. We think of the U.S. as a dynamic country of entrepreneurs and independent business owners, but this is a lot less true than it used to be. As economists Ryan Decker (now of the Federal Reserve Board) and others have demonstrated, the rate at which new businesses start up in the U.S. has been in decline. Until 2000, most of that decline was the result of big chain stores and restaurants pushing out local businesses. But since the turn of the century, high-growth companies are also forming at lower rates. The Silicon Valley startup boom we read about in the news is the exception, not the rule.

    What is the reason for this troubling trend? Many explanations have been proposed, but one favorite theory on the free-market right is that government has been choking off entrepreneurialism with a thicket of regulation. For example, Ryan Streeter, director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas-Austin, writes:

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The problem with attacking America's 'billionaire' class

    Thirty-six years ago, a local gadfly's column in a free Vermont weekly argued passionately for "democratic control" of television, so as to rid the industry of corporate advertisers who believe that "people should be treated as morons and bombarded over and over again with the same simple phrases and ideas."

    Today, that gadfly, Bernie Sanders, is a U.S. senator, and he's gaining traction as a challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination - by bombarding people over and over again with the same simple phrases and ideas.

    For the Bern, no generalization is too sweeping: "The business model of Wall Street is fraud." "Make college tuition free and debt free." "Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege." Then there's "the billionaire class," as in, We need people "to stand up to the billionaire class."

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The Democrats: Revolution or reform?

    The fourth Democratic presidential debate Sunday night confronted the Party of the People with a clear-cut choice. Did it want a wholesale revolution in the health-care system or merely reform in keeping with the Obama agenda now in place?

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed to replace President Obama's Affordable Care Act with a single-payer health plan that would extend coverage to all, scrapping private-insurance premiums and funding the program with taxes on recipients and employers.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swiftly denounced what Sanders calls "Medicare for All," emphatically defending what is now widely called "Obamacare," saying: "We've accomplished so much already. I don't want to see the Republicans repeal it."

    Thus has Sanders, the self-styled democratic socialist, stuck to his guns in advocating his radical social-welfare agenda that pushes the Democratic Party farther leftward, outflanking Hillary Clinton. In the process, she is seen as embracing the lame duck president as a liberal reformer but no radical.

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Ted Cruz, Donald Trump lead the GOP panic parade

    What's the most clearly defining moment so far in the 2016 presidential race? My choice would be Republican candidate Ted Cruz's New Hampshire campaign stop last March where he demonstrated his ability to frighten small children.

    "The Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind," he preached passionately to a packed room assembled by the Strafford County Republican. "The whole world's on fire!"

    "The whole world's on fire?" asked a clearly concerned little girl who sitting in the front row with her mother.

    The crowd chuckled. Cruz, without skipping a beat, solemnly approached the little girl and offered comfort. "The world is on fire. Yes!" he said. "But you know what? Your mommy's here, and everyone's here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better."

    Sweet. The audience applauded and a tense moment for the child, identified by news reports as 3-year-old Julie Trant with her mother Michelle, was softened. Yay.

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Sanders Proves the Pundits Wrong

    The problem with applying conventional wisdom to political campaigns is that it can suddenly be upended by an unconventional campaign.

    National media pundits have been riveted by Donald Trump’s flagrantly narcissistic run for the Republican presidential nomination. But Exhibit A for the most remarkable political challenge to conventional wisdom is Bernie Sanders and his totally unconventional, unabashedly populist run for the Democratic nomination.

    When the Vermont senator launched his campaign last May, the snarky cognoscenti pronounced his effort dead on arrival. Not a chance, they snorted, that a 74-year-old, Jewish, democratic socialist going against Hillary Clinton’s powerhouse machine — and daring to call for a people’s revolution against Wall Street and reckless corporate elites — could come close to winning.

    But Bernie’s authenticity and straight talk have mocked the cynicism of the “wise ones” and shocked the self-assured Clintonites. Huge crowds have turned out to cheer Bernie as he denounces the chasm of inequality ripping America apart.

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Republicans warm to the idea of Presidsent Trump

    Fifty-six percent of Republican and GOP-leaning voters nationally think Donald Trump would make a great or good president. That's higher than it is for any other GOP candidate. Ted Cruz is the only other one who is seen by a majority of GOP voters (53 percent) as potentially a good or great president.

    Apparently describing yourself regularly as great and promising that your presidency will make everything great is enough to lead a nontrivial number of voters to think you'd be a great president. Who knew it could be that easy?

    The GOP problem, in a nutshell, is this: Among American voters overall, more (52 percent) see Trump as a "terrible" president than say that about any other candidate. (Forty four percent say that about Hillary Clinton.)

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January 23rd

Bill Clinton feels New Hampshire voters' pain

    No one in politics is better than Bill Clinton at diagnosing the mood of the electorate, of putting voters' anxieties and frustration into the larger context of the performance of government and the economy. No one is more capable -- especially when the political fortunes of his wife are at risk -- of an ill-timed eruption.

    The Clinton who turned up at a campaign rally here Wednesday was Dr. Bill, not Pop-off Bill -- notwithstanding a new poll showing Hillary Clinton trailing Bernie Sanders in the state, 33 percent to the Vermont senator's 60 percent. New Hampshire, Clinton noted, "has been so good to me and Hillary," and yet, "I know we're in a hard fight here, and I know we're running against your neighbor."

    The former president's approach was not to berate Sanders' supporters or dispute their existence; it was, in classic Clinton fashion, to feel their pain. "People who feel left out and left behind -- they should be mad, and they should feel left out and left behind," Clinton said. But -- and this is increasingly the central message of the Clinton campaign -- "what they need now is not anger but answers."

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Republican race enters its survivor phase

    Technically, presidential nominations are supposed to be won through the votes of delegates at the national conventions. The possibility of contested conventions aside, however, we know that victory really depends on winning the largest number of delegates in primaries and caucuses. So the rules for how those delegates are apportioned are incredibly important, right?

    Well, sort of. If there is a closely contested fight all the way to June, then yes, it matters a lot how states allocate delegates. The Democrats use a proportional system everywhere: Candidates amass delegates based on their share of the vote. Republicans use the proportional method in some states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first votes of 2016 will be cast. Other states follow a pure winner-take-all approach, while most (such as South Carolina, the third state on the calendar) have some combination or hybrid of the two.

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Palin, Trump, Cruz and Corn

    Sarah Palin is really falling apart.

    “Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic, the ramifications of that betrayal of a transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, OK?” Palin told the crowd at her big announcement endorsing Donald Trump.

    The man himself was standing next to her, with a half-smile. Hard to tell if it was self-satisfaction or the look someone might get when trapped at a dinner party next to a stranger who’s describing how she met President William Henry Harrison in a past life.

    Even though Palin seemed to have a script, it didn’t help. “He is from the private sector, not a politician. Can I get a hallelujah? Where in the private sector you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritize, to keep the main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing,” she continued.

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Obama Takes a Walk on the Greener Side

    Until now, President Barack Obama has embraced gas and oil fracking, encouraged the construction of new nuclear reactors, and hailed government investment in wind and solar power. In keeping with this “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, he’d call for climate action one minute and sign off on measures destined to boost carbon pollution the next.

    Suddenly, it looks like Obama may have ditched his inherently contradictory approach.

    “We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” he asserted during his final State of the Union address. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

    Just three days later, the Obama administration moved in that direction by declaring a three-year moratorium on new leases to mine coal from federal land.

    Obama’s speech also cast switching to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels in a business-friendly light.

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