Keynes and the Swedes

Yglesias nicely summarizes a Post article about economic lessons from Sweden’s economic recovery:

The ‘lessons’ basically all just amount to bog [sic– I think] standard orthodox Keynesianism. Sweden’s right-wing government (which of course is wildly socialistic by American standards) went in to the recession with the budget in good shape, rather than the Bush approach of tax cut-induced structural deficits and expensive wars. Then when the recession hit, Sweden has massive automatic fiscal stabilizers, and tacked on some discretionary stimulus in the form of tax cuts and infrastructure projects…

Note that there’s no miracle here. It’s not like Sweden has shot forward into some bold new era of unknown prosperity. They were plugging along before the crisis, the crisis caused output and employment to plummet, but then what all the expansionary policy did was allow for a period of rapid growth so that Sweden can catch back up to the trend.

Meanwhile, the Republican party has convinced ourselves– despite virtually all evidence to the contrary– that we can cut ourselves (both spending and government regulation) back to robust growth.


53,508 > 26,239

First number is Americans who passed the bar in 2009.  Second number is the number of job openings for lawyers.  No further commentary necessary.  (Via Economix)

The legacy of Heller

When the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent in DC v. Heller three years ago and re-defined the second amendment “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” as an individual right, it was not exactly clear what this would mean for lots of gun regulations as the Heller majority opinion focused very much on the rights of self defense, especially in one’s home.  I’ve not actually read much about how this decision has affected existing gun statutes, thus it was very interesting to see this brief piece in Mother Jones about gun control being alive and well:

Well, three years later, gun control is alive and well despite more than 400 legal challenges based on Helleraccording to a new report (PDF) by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The NRA as well as dozens of criminals have attempted to invoke Heller in court to challenge everything from bans on carrying concealed weapons in public to restrictions on gun ownership by people involved in domestic violence. Almost all of those challenges have failed, according to the Brady Center, including a second lawsuit filed by Dick Heller, the plaintiff in the original Supreme Court case, who sued again to try to invalidate restrictions on semi-automatic weapons in the nation’s capital.

The failed lawsuits have also produced some surprisingly strong language from judges who don’t want to use Heller to implement the NRA’s vision of “any gun, any person, anywhere.” For instance, in finding that there is no constitutional right to carry a gun in a car or national park, the 4th Circuit court of appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, declared: “This is serious business. We do not wish to be even minutely responsible for some unspeakably tragic act of mayhem because in the peace of our judicial chambers we miscalculated as to Second Amendment rights.”

Well, that’s pleasantly surprising.  I also love that apt description of the NRA’s position, “any gun, any person, anywhere” as it really gets to the gist of what they support and it is also a formulation I suspect is rejected by over 80% of the public.

Frum on gay marriage

Former Bush adviser David Frum needs to just give up being a conservative who’s basically become a liberal on domestic issues and just become a liberal who’s a warmonger on foreign policy.  Since I’m much more a domestic issues guy, I generally agree with what he has to say on matters of domestic politics.  On the issue of marriage, I think Frum is, in fact, right to be concerned about the breakdown of American families, as there are very serious social costs that go along with single-female headed households.  He quite rightly points out, though, that this has nothing to do with gay marriage.  Good stuff:

The short answer is that the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.

Since 1997, same-sex marriage has evolved from talk to fact.

If people like me had been right, we should have seen the American family become radically more unstable over the subsequent decade and a half.

Instead — while American family stability has continued to deteriorate — it has deteriorated much more slowly than it did in the 1970s and 1980s before same-sex marriage was ever seriously thought of.

By the numbers, in fact, the 2000s were the least bad decade for American family stability since the fabled 1950s. And when you take a closer look at the American family, the facts have become even tougher for the anti-gay marriage position.

Short version.  Marriages are more stable, but here’s my favorite part:

What’s new and different in the past 20 years is the collapse of the Hispanic immigrant family. First-generation Latino immigrants maintain traditional families: conservative values, low divorce rates, high fertility and — despite low incomes — mothers surprisingly often at home with the children.

But the second-generation Latino family looks very different. In the new country, old norms collapse. Nearly half of all children born to Hispanic mothers are now born out of wedlock.

Whatever is driving this negative trend, it seems more than implausible to connect it to same-sex marriage. How would it even work that a 15-year-old girl in Van Nuys, California, becomes more likely to have a baby because two men in Des Moines, Iowa, can marry?   [emphasis mine]

On the one hand, I think it is easy to overstate what it means when one–admittedly populous and important state– takes this action.  On the other, as I’ve said before, gay marriage opponents need to just see the writing on the wall and find something else to fight about.

Don’t blame Wal-Mart for society

Last week the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 (9-0 on part, but the important part was 5-4) against a class action suit against Wal-Mart by it’s female employees for pervasive sex discrimination.   This interesting Op-Ed in the Times basically paints Wal-Mart as an evil company, but it also strongly suggests to me that they are not guilty of systematic sex discrimination– at least not based on the statistics commonly cited.  Women are 70% of hourly workers, but only a small fraction of managers.  On the surface, it would suggest sex discrimination, but it’s not.  Here’s why:

There are tens of thousands of experienced Wal-Mart women who would like to be promoted to the first managerial rung, salaried assistant store manager. But Wal-Mart makes it impossible for many of them to take that post, because its ruthless management style structures the job itself as one that most women, and especially those with young children or a relative to care for, would find difficult to accept.

Why? Because, for all the change that has swept over the company, at the store level there is still a fair amount of the old communal sociability. Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, Wal-Mart insists that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store, often hundreds of miles away.

For young men in a hurry, that’s an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination. True, Wal-Mart is hardly alone in demanding that rising managers sacrifice family life, but few companies make relocation such a fixed policy, and few have employment rolls even a third the size.

The obstacles to women’s advancement do not stop there. The workweek for salaried managers is around 50 hours or more, which can surge to 80 or 90 hours a week during holiday seasons. Not unexpectedly, some managers think women with family responsibilities would balk at such demands, and it is hardly to the discredit of thousands of Wal-Mart women that they may be right.

Obviously, I disagree with the conclusion of the article’s author.  It would be sex discrimination if Wal-mart’s policy was not based on something inherent to their business model.  But it is about their business model.  They want their new managers to be assigned far from their home stores and to work hellish hours.  There’s surely some business sense in that and it’s entirely within Wal-Mart’s rights to require that.  The fact that women are much less likely to accept a position in those circumstances– mostly due to social expectations about child-rearing, etc.,– is about society, not Wal-Mart.  It would seem absurd to me, liberalism run amok, in fact, to require Wal-mart to work its new managers less because that is disproportionately hard on women raising families.  The disproportional burden on women has to do with how our society shapes gender roles.  What needs to change is that we need men who are much more supportive with child-rearing and as spouses.   And, for the record, as the author argues there’s surely something to be said for unions to keep employers from abusing workers.  This Op-Ed suggests to me that Wal-mart is not a nice company, and one that I would never want myself of a loved one to work for, but not guilty of legal sex discrimination based upon these facts.

Free speech and “activist” judges

I am so tired of conservative complaints about activist judges.  Once again, the “conservative” majority of the court has struck down a piece of legislation by the duly-elected representatives of the people (in this case, the Arizona legislature) and replaced their own judgement.  Now, sometimes that needs to be done, e.g., Brown v. Board of Ed, but let’s just not pretend this conservative jurists have any genuine interest in deferring to elected bodies when those elected bodies pass laws they don’t like.  In this case, it strikes me as a particularly tortured reading of the 1st amendment:

In its first campaign-finance decision since its 5-to-4 ruling in the Citizens United case last year, the Supreme Courton Monday struck down an Arizona law that provided escalating matching funds to candidates who accept public financing.

The vote was again 5-to-4, with the same five justices in the majority as in the Citizens United decision. The majority’s rationale was that the law violated the First Amendment rights of candidates who raise private money. Such candidates, the majority said, may be reluctant to spend money to speak if they know that it will give rise to counter-speech paid for by the government.  [emphasis mine]

“Laws like Arizona’s matching funds provision that inhibit robust and wide-open political debate without sufficient justification cannot stand,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

Seriously?  They might not want to spend money because that affects the amount of public money their opponents receive and that’s somehow a 1st amendment violation?  Please.  Unfortunately, Arizona’s law was a particularly thoughtful way of public financing:

But supporters of campaign finance regulation worried that the decision represented a first step in a broader legal assault on public financing.

States and municipalities are now blocked from using a method of public financing that is simultaneously likely to attract candidates fearful that they will be vastly outspent and sensitive to the avoidance of needless government expense.

Short version: First amendment prohibits wise government expenditures on fairer elections but allows unlimited corporate spending.  Urggghh.

Gay marriage and the rules of the game

Nate Silver writes about NY’s new gay marriage law:

But the type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.

It’s also a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.

I think Yglesias‘ response is spot-on:

This is all true. Still, I would say that the bigger difference isn’t so much about the leadership style as it is that Cuomo won. Suppose that the New York State Senate operated according to the rules of the United States Senate and a bill failed unless it secured a 60 percent supermajority. What would people be saying about Andrew Cuomo now?

Exactly.  The United States Senate is a uniquely dysfunctional legislative body.  The political world we’re looking at right now would be dramatically different if Obama could have approached his first two years with a 50 rather than 60 vote majority Senate.

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