Mike Konczal

Roosevelt Institute Fellow

Recent Posts by Mike Konczal

  • Another Reason to Kill the Debt Ceiling: Conservative Think Tanks' Responses to Default

    Dec 5, 2012Mike Konczal

    House Republicans are looking to weaponize the debt ceiling again, while the Obama administration is trying to make removing the threat of default part of any agreement.

    Here's one reason why the debt ceiling needs to go: the conservative intellectual infrastructure cheered on a potential default. I had imagined that there would be a good cop/bad cop dynamic to the right. Very conservative political leaders would be the bad cop, saying that they weren't afraid to default on the debt, while conservative think tanks would play a version of the good cop, warning of the dire consequences of a default for the economy if their bad cop friend didn't get his way.

    For instance, here's bad cop Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) saying that the markets "would actually accept even a delay in interest payments on the Treasuries," especially "if it meant that Congress would right this ship, address this fiscal imbalance, and put us on a sustainable path, and that the bond market would rally if it saw we were making real progress towards this." Missing interest payments is fine; in fact, it is great for the country if it is used to pass the Ryan Plan.

    Financial analysts, to put it mildly, disagreed. JP Morgan analysts wrote that "any delay in making a coupon or principal payment by Treasury would almost certainly have large systemic effects with long-term adverse consequences for Treasury finances and the US economy."

    Here's where the think tanks are fascinating. You could image them saying "our partner Toomey is nuts, we can't control him, and you better do what he says or there's going to be real damage." But that's not what they did. It's best to split the work they did on the debt ceiling in two directions:

    1. Technical Default Ain't No Thang. The first is arguing, like Toomey, that a "technical default" wouldn't matter, and in fact it could be a great thing if the Ryan Plan passed as a result. How did James Pethokoukis, then of Fortune and now of AEI, deal with a Moody's report arguing a "short-lived default" would hurt the economy? Pethokoukis: "I guess I would care more about what Moody’s had to say if a) they hadn’t missed the whole financial crisis, b) didn’t want to see higher taxes as part of any fiscal fix and c) if they made any economic sense." Default doesn't matter because Pethokoukis doesn't want taxes to go up, and there's no economic sense because of an interview he read in the Wall Street Journal.

    Others went even further, arguing that the real defaulters are those who, umm, don't want to default on the debt. Here's the conservative think tank e21 with a staff editorial arguing that "policymakers need to stay focused on the real default issue: whether the terms of the debt limit increase this summer will be sufficiently tough to ensure that the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio is stabilized and eventually sharply reduced." All these people who want a clean debt ceiling increase are causing the real default issue. As someone who used to do a lot of credit risk modeling, this is my favorite: "Indeed, those demanding the toughest concessions today actually have a strong pro-creditor bias." S&P disagreed with whoever wrote that editorial and increased the credit risk (downgraded) based on the threat of this technical default.

    Heritage wrote a white paper saying that you could just "hold the debt limit in place, thereby forcing an immediate reduction in non-interest spending averaging about $125 billion each month," and that "refusing to raise the debt limit would not, in and of itself, cause the United States to default on its public debt." Dana Milbank noted that these kinds of shuffling plans would still leave the government short and likely cause a recession. Milbank: "Without borrowing, we’d have to cut Obama’s budget for 2012 by $1.5 trillion. That means even if we shut down the military and stopped writing Social Security checks, the government would still come up about $200 billion short." Cato also jumped in with the technical default crowd here.

    But that was the reaction from the number-crunching analysts. What about the bosses?

    2. Civilization Hangs in the Balance of the Debt Ceiling Fight. Here's the president of AEI, Arthur C. Brooks, in July 2011: "The battle over the debt ceiling...is not a political fight between Republicans and Democrats; it is a fight against 50-year trends toward statism...No one deserves our political support today unless he or she is willing to work for as long as it takes to win the moral fight to steer our nation back toward enterprise and self-governance."

    Even better, the president of the Heritage Foundation, also in July 2011, compares Democrats to Japan during World War II and then argues: "We must win this fight. The debate over raising the debt limit seems complicated, but it is really very simple. Look beyond the myriad details of the awkward compromises, and you see an epic struggle between two opposing camps....Congress should not raise the debt limit without getting spending under control."

    So the the conservative intellectual infrastructure, which consumes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, looked at the possibility of a debt default and determined it was both inconsequential and also the only way to stop statism in our lifetimes. No wonder the time period around the debt ceiling in 2011 was such a disaster for our economy, killing around 250,000 jobs that should have been created. There's no reason to assume all the same players won't play an even worse cop this time around.

    There's no good reason for the debt ceiling, and now there are really bad consequences for its existence. Time to end it.

    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

    House Republicans are looking to weaponize the debt ceiling again, while the Obama administration is trying to make removing the threat of default part of any agreement.

    Here's one reason why the debt ceiling needs to go: the conservative intellectual infrastructure cheered on a potential default. I had imagined that there would be a good cop/bad cop dynamic to the right. Very conservative political leaders would be the bad cop, saying that they weren't afraid to default on the debt, while conservative think tanks would play a version of the good cop, warning of the dire consequences of a default for the economy if their bad cop friend didn't get his way.

    For instance, here's bad cop Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) saying that the markets "would actually accept even a delay in interest payments on the Treasuries," especially "if it meant that Congress would right this ship, address this fiscal imbalance, and put us on a sustainable path, and that the bond market would rally if it saw we were making real progress towards this." Missing interest payments is fine; in fact, it is great for the country if it is used to pass the Ryan Plan.

    Financial analysts, to put it mildly, disagreed. JP Morgan analysts wrote that "any delay in making a coupon or principal payment by Treasury would almost certainly have large systemic effects with long-term adverse consequences for Treasury finances and the US economy."

    Here's where the think tanks are fascinating. You could image them saying "our partner Toomey is nuts, we can't control him, and you better do what he says or there's going to be real damage." But that's not what they did. It's best to split the work they did on the debt ceiling in two directions:

    1. Technical Default Ain't No Thang. The first is arguing, like Toomey, that a "technical default" wouldn't matter, and in fact it could be a great thing if the Ryan Plan passed as a result. How did James Pethokoukis, then of Fortune and now of AEI, deal with a Moody's report arguing a "short-lived default" would hurt the economy? Pethokoukis: "I guess I would care more about what Moody’s had to say if a) they hadn’t missed the whole financial crisis, b) didn’t want to see higher taxes as part of any fiscal fix and c) if they made any economic sense." Default doesn't matter because Pethokoukis doesn't want taxes to go up, and there's no economic sense because of an interview he read in the Wall Street Journal.

    Others went even further, arguing that the real defaulters are those who, umm, don't want to default on the debt. Here's the conservative think tank e21 with a staff editorial arguing that "policymakers need to stay focused on the real default issue: whether the terms of the debt limit increase this summer will be sufficiently tough to ensure that the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio is stabilized and eventually sharply reduced." All these people who want a clean debt ceiling increase are causing the real default issue. As someone who used to do a lot of credit risk modeling, this is my favorite: "Indeed, those demanding the toughest concessions today actually have a strong pro-creditor bias." S&P disagreed with whoever wrote that editorial and increased the credit risk (downgraded) based on the threat of this technical default.

    Heritage wrote a white paper saying that you could just "hold the debt limit in place, thereby forcing an immediate reduction in non-interest spending averaging about $125 billion each month," and that "refusing to raise the debt limit would not, in and of itself, cause the United States to default on its public debt." Dana Milbank noted that these kinds of shuffling plans would still leave the government short and likely cause a recession. Milbank: "Without borrowing, we’d have to cut Obama’s budget for 2012 by $1.5 trillion. That means even if we shut down the military and stopped writing Social Security checks, the government would still come up about $200 billion short." Cato also jumped in with the technical default crowd here.

    But that was the reaction from the number-crunching analysts. What about the bosses?

    2. Civilization Hangs in the Balance of the Debt Ceiling Fight. Here's the president of AEI, Arthur C. Brooks, in July 2011: "The battle over the debt ceiling...is not a political fight between Republicans and Democrats; it is a fight against 50-year trends toward statism...No one deserves our political support today unless he or she is willing to work for as long as it takes to win the moral fight to steer our nation back toward enterprise and self-governance."

    Even better, the president of the Heritage Foundation, also in July 2011, compares Democrats to Japan during World War II and then argues: "We must win this fight. The debate over raising the debt limit seems complicated, but it is really very simple. Look beyond the myriad details of the awkward compromises, and you see an epic struggle between two opposing camps....Congress should not raise the debt limit without getting spending under control."

    So the the conservative intellectual infrastructure, which consumes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, looked at the possibility of a debt default and determined it was both inconsequential and also the only way to stop statism in our lifetimes. No wonder the time period around the debt ceiling in 2011 was such a disaster for our economy, killing around 250,000 jobs that should have been created. There's no reason to assume all the same players won't play an even worse cop this time around.

    There's no good reason for the debt ceiling, and now there are really bad consequences for its existence. Time to end it.

    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

    Share This

  • Should Plummeting Interest Rates Change Deficit Hawks' Arguments?

    Dec 5, 2012Mike Konczal

    Several deficit reduction plans came out at the end of 2010, including a proposal of the co-chairs of the Simpson-Bowles comission and another by Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin. Since then, the economic recovery has been sluggish, with unemployment stubbornly high. The Republicans threatened what they called a "technical default" during the debt ceiling fight, a move which led to a ratings downgrade for the United States and months of subpar growth. Rather than balancing the budget, the deficit was 8.7 percent of GDP in 2011, and is projected to be 7.3 percent of GDP for 2012.

    What else has happened? Borrowing costs for the United States have plummeted. While real interest rates for borrowing 10 years out were still positive in late 2010 when these plans came out, they have since gone negative and stayed there. Investors are paying us to borrow money for the next 10 years.

    If you were concerned about our nation's deficits in late 2010 and you follow this crucial market signal, you should be significantly less worried now, right? It's important to note that this fall in our borrowing costs hasn't been incorporated into any of the debt discussion happening right now, discussions which still use frameworks created in 2010.

    Take Version 2.0 of the Domenici-Rivlin Plan, released on Monday. Defenders argue that this plan calls for stimulus right away, and even has an "economic growth" checkbox in its slideshow to prevent immediate austerity. However, there are two big things in Version 2.0 that don't incorporate collapsing interest rates.

    1. It Cuts Its Stimulus Plan by 80 Percent. When I brought this up on Twitter, several people noted that Version 2.0, much like Version 1.0, contains stimulus. However, it wasn't noted that it recommends significantly less stimulus in the second version, even though borrowing costs are significantly cheaper and getting to full employment is equally crucial for dealing with our deficits.

    The first version recommends a payroll tax holiday of $650 billion. The new version calls for an income tax rebate of just $120 billion dollars (line 34). That's 80 percent less stimulus than in the original version, even though the price of providing stimulus has plummeted. Is getting to full employment suddenly less of a priority? We are still quite a ways away from there.

    2. It Reuses "Down Payment" and Credibility Theories. A popular theory in 2010 was that any short-term stimulus needed to be paired with long-term deficit reduction. Why? Not for political reasons, like that being the only way to get either through Congress. It was because of strictly economic reasons. Without deficit reduction, the upfront stimulus would panic the financial markets, raising interest rates and canceling out the stimulus. (This ignores that rates would rise because the economy was getting stronger, but forget that.)

    Here's Version 1.0, recommending "a short-term jump-start to growth and a commitment to long-term deficit reduction that makes stimulus credible." In Version 2.0 we get a similar claim: "Of course, this and any other policies that add to the short-term deficit should be paired with a long-term debt reduction agreement rather than be enacted in isolation." The authors also think that removing the fiscal cliff requires a "down payment" to satiate the markets for the time being.

    Once again, it isn't clear what macroeconomic theory is animating the "of course" here other than a vague sense of credibility. To whatever extent that theory made sense in 2010, it's significantly less, ahem, credible now. The end of 2010 saw an increase in stimulus through extensions of the Bush tax cuts, unemployment insurance, and the payroll tax without any long-term deficit reduction, and there's no evidence it caused a market panic. Indeed, one of the sadder moments for President Obama's economic team was them walking through confidence fairy arguments during the debt ceiling fight in summer 2011, the logical end results of this credibility argument.

    If we can pass stimulus right now, why don't we do it? Certainly Version 2.0 doesn't think Medicare changes must go with, say, their plans to adjust the COLA of Social Security. I'd say it's because making it clear that these are two separate issues with very different solutions keeps the Very Serious People from using manufactured short-term crises and mass unemployment to reengineer social insurance programs to do the things they want them to do. Regardless of whether you like those ideas, there's no reason to hold our current unemployed hostage in the process. And unfortunately for them, the capital markets for U.S. debt, one of the most liquid and transparent markets in the history of modern capitalism, agree. I'm still not hearing good reasons to ignore this big market movement from those still worried about the deficit as the major priority.

    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

    Several deficit reduction plans came out at the end of 2010, including a proposal of the co-chairs of the Simpson-Bowles comission and another by Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin. Since then, the economic recovery has been sluggish, with unemployment stubbornly high. The Republicans threatened what they called a "technical default" during the debt ceiling fight, a move which led to a ratings downgrade for the United States and months of subpar growth. Rather than balancing the budget, the deficit was 8.7 percent of GDP in 2011, and is projected to be 7.3 percent of GDP for 2012.

    What else has happened? Borrowing costs for the United States have plummeted. While real interest rates for borrowing 10 years out were still positive in late 2010 when these plans came out, they have since gone negative and stayed there. Investors are paying us to borrow money for the next 10 years.

    If you were concerned about our nation's deficits in late 2010 and you follow this crucial market signal, you should be significantly less worried now, right? It's important to note that this fall in our borrowing costs hasn't been incorporated into any of the debt discussion happening right now, discussions which still use frameworks created in 2010.

    Take Version 2.0 of the Domenici-Rivlin Plan, released on Monday. Defenders argue that this plan calls for stimulus right away, and even has an "economic growth" checkbox in its slideshow to prevent immediate austerity. However, there are two big things in Version 2.0 that don't incorporate collapsing interest rates.

    1. It Cuts Its Stimulus Plan by 80 Percent. When I brought this up on Twitter, several people noted that Version 2.0, much like Version 1.0, contains stimulus. However, it wasn't noted that it recommends significantly less stimulus in the second version, even though borrowing costs are significantly cheaper and getting to full employment is equally crucial for dealing with our deficits.

    The first version recommends a payroll tax holiday of $650 billion. The new version calls for an income tax rebate of just $120 billion dollars (line 34). That's 80 percent less stimulus than in the original version, even though the price of providing stimulus has plummeted. Is getting to full employment suddenly less of a priority? We are still quite a ways away from there.

    2. It Reuses "Down Payment" and Credibility Theories. A popular theory in 2010 was that any short-term stimulus needed to be paired with long-term deficit reduction. Why? Not for political reasons, like that being the only way to get either through Congress. It was because of strictly economic reasons. Without deficit reduction, the upfront stimulus would panic the financial markets, raising interest rates and canceling out the stimulus. (This ignores that rates would rise because the economy was getting stronger, but forget that.)

    Here's Version 1.0, recommending "a short-term jump-start to growth and a commitment to long-term deficit reduction that makes stimulus credible." In Version 2.0 we get a similar claim: "Of course, this and any other policies that add to the short-term deficit should be paired with a long-term debt reduction agreement rather than be enacted in isolation." The authors also think that removing the fiscal cliff requires a "down payment" to satiate the markets for the time being.

    Once again, it isn't clear what macroeconomic theory is animating the "of course" here other than a vague sense of credibility. To whatever extent that theory made sense in 2010, it's significantly less, ahem, credible now. The end of 2010 saw an increase in stimulus through extensions of the Bush tax cuts, unemployment insurance, and the payroll tax without any long-term deficit reduction, and there's no evidence it caused a market panic. Indeed, one of the sadder moments for President Obama's economic team was them walking through confidence fairy arguments during the debt ceiling fight in summer 2011, the logical end results of this credibility argument.

    If we can pass stimulus right now, why don't we do it? Certainly Version 2.0 doesn't think Medicare changes must go with, say, their plans to adjust the COLA of Social Security. I'd say it's because making it clear that these are two separate issues with very different solutions keeps the Very Serious People from using manufactured short-term crises and mass unemployment to reengineer social insurance programs to do the things they want them to do. Regardless of whether you like those ideas, there's no reason to hold our current unemployed hostage in the process. And unfortunately for them, the capital markets for U.S. debt, one of the most liquid and transparent markets in the history of modern capitalism, agree. I'm still not hearing good reasons to ignore this big market movement from those still worried about the deficit as the major priority.

    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

    Share This

  • New Inquiry's Drive; Twilight of the Bureaucratic Elite

    Dec 3, 2012Mike Konczal

    The New Inquiry is running a subscription drive for their $2/month pdf magazine and for keeping the site running and free. Given that their project is very different than this blog, I'm not sure how to recommend them. So here are some of my favorite 2012 items from them, which should give you a sense of whether or not you'd enjoy subscribing yourself.

    Given that the project emphasizes younger voices outside institutions currently circling their wagons, a lot of their writing is more interesting and closer to the issues at hand than what you'd normally read. Atossa Abrahamian's piece on Going Lebron and Malcolm Harris' review of Julia Leigh’s film Sleeping Beauty are two of the more interesting pieces on youth unemployment I've read, particularly since they approach it from a much different angle than the normal stories. David Noriega's piece on serving as a Civilian Complaint Review Board investigator for the NYPD is again another way of understanding NYPD abuses outside the regular critique of abuses. I found Kate Redburn's piece on the GLBTQ case against hate crimes laws convincing and well-argued. Molly Knefel's piece reflecting on teaching and her brother's arrest was a fascinating look into dealing with the realities of policing and privilege. Freddie DeBoer's review of Twilight of the Elites was an aggressive, left-wing review unlikely to be seen at other venues. This excerpt (and interview) from Kate Zambreno's Heroines on the role of madness, gender and genius is brilliant. And Lili Loofbourow's review of the movie Brave was the best read of it I've seen.

    There's a blogging sabermetrics element to the site, either publishing writers who are up-and-coming, giving talented people in other fields a space to write with good editing, or providing a more prominent home for some of the Internet's better bloggers. Aaron Bady, who had the best take on the Mike Daisey flap, found a new home for his zunguzungu blog there, as did other blogs I enjoy like those of Rob Horning and Austerity Kitchen. If you find this or other articles by them interesting, and are looking for new places to read, consider subscribing.

    ====

    While going through those New Inquiry articles, I re-read Freddie DeBoer's review of Chris Hayes's Twilight of the Elites. One of the challenges of the book is that Hayes doesn't actually want to tear down the meritocracy period or wage war against all institutions -- there's no "and good riddance" subtitle. I noticed that this is a postiive tension in my review of the book for Dissent, because it allows the book to come up with a model of how the meritocratic elite function in society and ways in which it fails, pointing to possible better ways.

    But why the ambivalence? Freddie argues that mainstream liberals can't cope with the implications. They are used to proposing "a moderate, capitalism-sustaining set of policy proposals" because, either professionally or ideologically, "alternatives to capitalism are beyond the realms of acceptable discussion."

    Maybe. Post-Dworkin, there's been a lot of energy in fleshing out a liberal project that is, to use the jargon, "ambition-sensitive and endowment-insensitive," so I don't think it is a complete blindspot. The book argues, following Robert Michels' arguments in Political Parties, that some level of stratification and power is inevitable to any sufficiently large and important enterprise. The important part is to have that stratification best embody democratic principles, particularly by resisting ossification, and keep the project as a search for and a process of democracy.

    But I think the book gives a very clear and specific reason I haven't seen emphasized on why it thinks a meritocratic elite is necessary - we need it to combat global warming. From Twilight:

    Certain political issues do not require elite mediation...that doesn't hold for global warming, which I would argue is the single most pressing challenge our civilization faces...Here, we need elites and experts to tell us it's happening and that we have to take steps to prevent it. Implementing corrective policy on the scale necessary requires, as a precondition, a robust and widely shared level of pubic trust that climate scientists and the political leaders who favor a carbon policy are telling us the truth. But the crisis of authority makes that impossible...

    Progress is dependent upon a productive and dynamic tension between institutionalism and insurrectionism. Insurrectionists keep our institutions honest. Institutionalists are stewards of our collective public life...without the social cohesion that trusted institutions provide, we cannot produce the level of consensus necessary to confront our greatest challenges. I believe the most important of these is climate change.

    Without functioning institutions, trustworthy because some ideal of merit is guiding credentials and access, we can't tackle global warming. We can't trust the scientists to diagnosis the problem, or the bureaucrats to carry out the policy solutions.

    Abstracting away from the specifics of the book, I wonder how much a meritocratic elite is necessary for social democratic liberalism generally. If you are going to have a bureaucratic system determining access and pricing of health insurance, projecting the costs of old age pensions, determining what kinds of activities count as market-making for financial regulations, figuring out the costs of pollution, etc., you'll need some way of ensuring that this system is accountable and competent.

    But, and here I think the book misses the opportunity to discuss this, does that require a meritocracy as we understand it? How does the need for good government policy carried out well square with, or contrast against, the winner-take-all form of meritocracy, where everything is collapsable into a combination of wealth and IQ? Competence, accountability, a spirit of public service, and dependability are missing from our elite, though they are values that are, or should be, prized in a bureaucracy.

    I think I'm going to have to spend some time in 2013 coming up with a better working theory of the bureaucracy, especially how we want it to be. What features does it take from our meritocracy and, more importantly, in what ways can it serve as a corrective? Several people noted to me that the ethos of public service is one of the things missing from the paper I just wrote on the general case for public options, as a public service ethic is exactly what you don't get from private provisioning. What should I be reading?

     

    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

    The New Inquiry is running a subscription drive for their $2/month pdf magazine and for keeping the site running and free. Given that their project is very different than this blog, I'm not sure how to recommend them. So here are some of my favorite 2012 items from them, which should give you a sense of whether or not you'd enjoy subscribing yourself.

    Given that the project emphasizes younger voices outside institutions currently circling their wagons, a lot of their writing is more interesting and closer to the issues at hand than what you'd normally read. Atossa Abrahamian's piece on Going Lebron and Malcolm Harris' review of Julia Leigh’s film Sleeping Beauty are two of the more interesting pieces on youth unemployment I've read, particularly since they approach it from a much different angle than the normal stories. David Noriega's piece on serving as a Civilian Complaint Review Board investigator for the NYPD is again another way of understanding NYPD abuses outside the regular critique of abuses. I found Kate Redburn's piece on the GLBTQ case against hate crimes laws convincing and well-argued. Molly Knefel's piece reflecting on teaching and her brother's arrest was a fascinating look into dealing with the realities of policing and privilege. Freddie DeBoer's review of Twilight of the Elites was an aggressive, left-wing review unlikely to be seen at other venues. This excerpt (and interview) from Kate Zambreno's Heroines on the role of madness, gender and genius is brilliant. And Lili Loofbourow's review of the movie Brave was the best read of it I've seen.

    There's a blogging sabermetrics element to the site, either publishing writers who are up-and-coming, giving talented people in other fields a space to write with good editing, or providing a more prominent home for some of the Internet's better bloggers. Aaron Bady, who had the best take on the Mike Daisey flap, found a new home for his zunguzungu blog there, as did other blogs I enjoy like those of Rob Horning and Austerity Kitchen. If you find this or other articles by them interesting, and are looking for new places to read, consider subscribing.

    ====

    While going through those New Inquiry articles, I re-read Freddie DeBoer's review of Chris Hayes's Twilight of the Elites. One of the challenges of the book is that Hayes doesn't actually want to tear down the meritocracy period or wage war against all institutions -- there's no "and good riddance" subtitle. I noticed that this is a postiive tension in my review of the book for Dissent, because it allows the book to come up with a model of how the meritocratic elite function in society and ways in which it fails, pointing to possible better ways.

    But why the ambivalence? Freddie argues that mainstream liberals can't cope with the implications. They are used to proposing "a moderate, capitalism-sustaining set of policy proposals" because, either professionally or ideologically, "alternatives to capitalism are beyond the realms of acceptable discussion."

    Maybe. Post-Dworkin, there's been a lot of energy in fleshing out a liberal project that is, to use the jargon, "ambition-sensitive and endowment-insensitive," so I don't think it is a complete blindspot. The book argues, following Robert Michels' arguments in Political Parties, that some level of stratification and power is inevitable to any sufficiently large and important enterprise. The important part is to have that stratification best embody democratic principles, particularly by resisting ossification, and keep the project as a search for and a process of democracy.

    But I think the book gives a very clear and specific reason I haven't seen emphasized on why it thinks a meritocratic elite is necessary - we need it to combat global warming. From Twilight:

    Certain political issues do not require elite mediation...that doesn't hold for global warming, which I would argue is the single most pressing challenge our civilization faces...Here, we need elites and experts to tell us it's happening and that we have to take steps to prevent it. Implementing corrective policy on the scale necessary requires, as a precondition, a robust and widely shared level of pubic trust that climate scientists and the political leaders who favor a carbon policy are telling us the truth. But the crisis of authority makes that impossible...

    Progress is dependent upon a productive and dynamic tension between institutionalism and insurrectionism. Insurrectionists keep our institutions honest. Institutionalists are stewards of our collective public life...without the social cohesion that trusted institutions provide, we cannot produce the level of consensus necessary to confront our greatest challenges. I believe the most important of these is climate change.

    Without functioning institutions, trustworthy because some ideal of merit is guiding credentials and access, we can't tackle global warming. We can't trust the scientists to diagnosis the problem, or the bureaucrats to carry out the policy solutions.

    Abstracting away from the specifics of the book, I wonder how much a meritocratic elite is necessary for social democratic liberalism generally. If you are going to have a bureaucratic system determining access and pricing of health insurance, projecting the costs of old age pensions, determining what kinds of activities count as market-making for financial regulations, figuring out the costs of pollution, etc., you'll need some way of ensuring that this system is accountable and competent.

    But, and here I think the book misses the opportunity to discuss this, does that require a meritocracy as we understand it? How does the need for good government policy carried out well square with, or contrast against, the winner-take-all form of meritocracy, where everything is collapsable into a combination of wealth and IQ? Competence, accountability, a spirit of public service, and dependability are missing from our elite, though they are values that are, or should be, prized in a bureaucracy.

    I think I'm going to have to spend some time in 2013 coming up with a better working theory of the bureaucracy, especially how we want it to be. What features does it take from our meritocracy and, more importantly, in what ways can it serve as a corrective? Several people noted to me that the ethos of public service is one of the things missing from the paper I just wrote on the general case for public options, as a public service ethic is exactly what you don't get from private provisioning. What should I be reading?

     

    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

    Share This

  • New Paper: Against the Coupon State

    Dec 3, 2012Mike Konczal

    Imagine if current neoliberal policymakers had to sit down today and invent the idea of a library. What would it look like? They'd likely create a tax credit to subsidize the purchasing and reselling of books, like much of our submerged welfare state. They might require a mandate for people to rent books from approved private libraries run by Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with penalties for those who don’t and vouchers for those who can’t afford it, like the recent health care expansion. 

    Or maybe they’d create means-tested libraries only accessible to the poor, with a requirement that the patrons document how impoverished they are month after month to keep their library card. Maybe they’d also exempt the cost of private library cards from payroll taxes. Or let any private firm calling itself a library pay nothing in taxes while exempting their bonds from taxation and insuring their losses by, say, paying for books that go missing. You can imagine them going through every possible option rather than the old-fashioned, straightforward, public library, open to all, provided and run by the government, that our country enjoys everyday.
     
    I have a new white paper out with New America's "Renewing the American Social Contract" series, titled "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State." Here's the introduction, and here's the full pdf.
     
    Given that the state wants to provide a certain good, I wanted to find the arguments over whether or not the government should provide that good itself or provide coupons for purchases in the private market. Surprisingly, there were few cohensive summaries, so I created one myself. Though not explicitly stated, It's relevant for discussions over whether or not the welfare state should be entirely replaced with cash (the ultimate coupon).
    The rest of the papers in the series are very much worth your time too. I hope you check them out. Mine starts out with:
     
    The fundamental ideological conflict surrounding the Welfare State in the U.S. is no longer over the scope of government, but instead how the government carries out its responsibilities and delivers services. The conservative and neoliberal vision is one of a government that provides a comparable range of benefits as conventional liberals, but rather than designing and delivering the services directly, it provides coupons for citizens. Coupons – whether by that name or more anodyne terms such as “vouchers” or “premium support” or tax subsidies – could then be used to purchase the services in the private market. Whenever neoliberals have sought to expand the scope of the welfare state or conservatives have tried to fundamentally shrink it, both have come bearing coupons.
     
    Read the rest at New America.
     
    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

     

    Imagine if current neoliberal policymakers had to sit down today and invent the idea of a library. What would it look like? They'd likely create a tax credit to subsidize the purchasing and reselling of books, like much of our submerged welfare state. They might require a mandate for people to rent books from approved private libraries run by Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with penalties for those who don’t and vouchers for those who can’t afford it, like the recent health care expansion. 

    Or maybe they’d create means-tested libraries only accessible to the poor, with a requirement that the patrons document how impoverished they are month after month to keep their library card. Maybe they’d also exempt the cost of private library cards from payroll taxes. Or let any private firm calling itself a library pay nothing in taxes while exempting their bonds from taxation and insuring their losses by, say, paying for books that go missing. You can imagine them going through every possible option rather than the old-fashioned, straightforward, public library, open to all, provided and run by the government, that our country enjoys everyday.
     
    I have a new white paper out with New America's "Renewing the American Social Contract" series, titled "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State." Here's the introduction, and here's the full pdf.
     
    Given that the state wants to provide a certain good, I wanted to find the arguments over whether or not the government should provide that good itself or provide coupons for purchases in the private market. Surprisingly, there were few cohensive summaries, so I created one myself. Though not explicitly stated, It's relevant for discussions over whether or not the welfare state should be entirely replaced with cash (the ultimate coupon).
    The rest of the papers in the series are very much worth your time too. I hope you check them out. Mine starts out with:
     
    The fundamental ideological conflict surrounding the Welfare State in the U.S. is no longer over the scope of government, but instead how the government carries out its responsibilities and delivers services. The conservative and neoliberal vision is one of a government that provides a comparable range of benefits as conventional liberals, but rather than designing and delivering the services directly, it provides coupons for citizens. Coupons – whether by that name or more anodyne terms such as “vouchers” or “premium support” or tax subsidies – could then be used to purchase the services in the private market. Whenever neoliberals have sought to expand the scope of the welfare state or conservatives have tried to fundamentally shrink it, both have come bearing coupons.
     
    Read the rest at New America.
     
    Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
      

     

    Share This

  • Following Walmart and Black Friday

    Nov 21, 2012Mike Konczal

    My colleague Dorian Warren describes what is going on with Walmart in the video above and here.

    Here's a list of events and ways to particpate by standing with Walmart on Black Friday. I encourage you to check it out.

    Josh Eidelson has been a must read on this topic. Read him at his new Nation blog here, and follow him on twitter here.

    Also, I enjoyed reading Sarah Jaffe reporting at the Guardian, and Seth Ackerman talking about Walmart via Hostess here.

    My colleague Dorian Warren describes what is going on with Walmart in the video above and here.

    Here's a list of events and ways to particpate by standing with Walmart on Black Friday. I encourage you to check it out.

    Josh Eidelson has been a must read on this topic. Read him at his new Nation blog here, and follow him on twitter here.

    Also, I enjoyed reading Sarah Jaffe reporting at the Guardian, and Seth Ackerman talking about Walmart via Hostess here.

    Share This

Pages