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Tyler Cowen thinks Scotland should stay in the UK, and so do I. But this bit of his blog post I can’t quite agree with:

If a significant segment of the British partnership wishes to leave, and for no really good practical reason, it is a sign that something is deeply wrong with contemporary politics and with our standards for loyalties.

I find this entire prospect depressing, and although it is starting to pick up more coverage in the United States and globally, still it is an under-covered story relative to its importance.

This is a referendum on the modern nation-state, an institution that has done very well since the late 1940s but which is indeed often ethnically heterogeneous at its core. While I expect Scottish independence to be voted down, if it passes I will feel the world’s risk premium has gone up, even if the Scots manage to make independence work. (emphasis original)

The main reason why some Scots want to leave the UK is ideological. Scotland consistently votes 15-20 points to the left of the rest of the UK, and with a current center-right government and a constantly improving prospect of a Conservative victory at the next election, many left-wing Scots fear the policies they’ll face in a united Britain. If you follow the Twitter feed of Yes Scotland, you’ll see a stream of claims about new social programs an independent Scotland could implement, and explicit fears about future Tory rule.

Furthermore, Scots are discontented with devolution, wanting something more, but many of them do not trust that David Cameron will follow through on promises to enact more generous autonomy for Scotland (his party is, after all, still the Conservative and Unionist Party).

Growing state intervention in people’s lives has made ordinary ideological disagreements more salient and fundamental. As a result, ideologically polarized people in advanced democracies often wonder whether they can live in peace with “the other side.” Is this depressing or just inevitable? Anyway, I’m not sure Scottish secession would raise the world risk premium any more than Norwegian or Icelandic secession did, or than Faroese independence would. It would at least be peaceful and negotiated. Still, I reiterate that it is probably a bad idea for Scots, and unlikely to happen according to the polls.

Early Friday morning, the House passed an important amendment to the  appropriations bill for Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies. As Billy House reports (National Journal):

Using states’ rights as a bipartisan rallying cry, the House voted 219 to 189 early Friday to prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to conduct raids or otherwise interfere with medical marijuana activities that are legal in the states.

The amendment, which was sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), passed with the support of 49 Republicans and 170 Democrats.

“Despite overwhelming shift in public opinion, the federal government continues its hard line of oppression against medical marijuana,” Rohrabacher said. But he said the Drug Enforcement Administration would be blocked from using any money in this appropriations bill to conduct raids on state-legal medical marijuana operations or dispensaries, or otherwise interfere with state medical marijuana laws or doctors or patients abiding by them.

One might have hoped that more Republicans would have dusted off their support for the 10th amendment to cast a yea vote. But GOP support was far weaker when similar amendments were offered in the past (there have been six failed attempts since 2003). As the Marijuana Policy Project’s Dan Riffle (Reason) notes: “This measure passed because it received more support from Republicans than ever before…It is refreshing to see conservatives in Congress sticking to their conservative principles when it comes to marijuana policy. Republicans increasingly recognize that marijuana prohibition is a failed Big Government program that infringes on states’ rights.”

These days you take victories—even small ones—wherever you can find them. On to the dark hole of the Senate!

At the end of the term, I always hold team debates in my introductory international relations course. After each team has presented, I hold a “just-for-fun” vote of the class on each resolution. This term, I had them debate the following resolutions. Some of the results surprised me, particularly since I try to craft reasonably balanced debate propositions.

Resolved: That NATO should send military aid to Ukraine to deter Russian aggression and stabilize the country.

The class voted against this resolution, 75%-25%.

Resolved: That the principal reason for the decline in violent death rates over history is the rise of the territorial state.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 51%-49%.

Resolved: That the optimal level of U.S. counterterrorism expenditure is much lower than it is now.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 87%-13%.

Resolved: That the World Trade Organization should incorporate labor and environmental regulations with loss of trade preferences as a sanction for defection from them.

The class voted against this resolution, 56%-44%.

Resolved: That for most countries, floating exchange rates are clearly superior to fixed ones or to currency unification.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 100%-0%. (First unanimous vote I’ve ever seen.)

Resolved: That transnational advocacy networks make little difference in the human rights practices of authoritarian regimes.

The class voted in favor of this resolution, 77%-23%. (Due to an odd number of teams, I took the “con” side of this debate. The other students whipped me.)

Waiting for Paul

Has anyone noticed that Paul Krugman has been strangely silent on the scandal at the VA, in which there seems to be a massive fraud in the failure to accurately report the real time that veterans have to wait for needed health care.

Perhaps this has something to do with this column, in which he said:

The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.

And…

For the lesson of the V.H.A.’s success story — that a government agency can deliver better care at lower cost than the private sector — runs completely counter to the pro-privatization, anti-government conventional wisdom that dominates today’s Washington.

And…

Cries of ”socialized medicine” didn’t, in the end, succeed in blocking the creation of Medicare. And farsighted thinkers are already suggesting that the Veterans Health Administration, not President Bush’s unrealistic vision of a system in which people go ”comparative shopping” for medical care the way they do when buying tile (his example, not mine), represents the true future of American health care.

Paul, I’m sure, has been holed up in his office trying desperately to show how the scandal is the result of right-wing extremists who are blindly ignorant to the facts and bludgeon reality with their ignorant, ideological hammers at every opportunity.

Of course that is the basic argument of every Krugman column, whether the “scandal” at issue is climate science, banking reform, austerity policies in Europe, income inequality, etc. etc.  He cycles through his pet lists of topics, but the argument is the same–cut and pasted from one article to the next.  Even if you think that the other Times columnists are whacky, too, at least the others come up with different whack from time to time and don’t expect to get paid for writing the same column every day.

So, Paul, we’re waiting.  Should be a doozy.

 

The Withdrawal

President Obama’s announcement about further troop drawdowns and a time-certain exit from Afghanistan has drawn some sharp responses. As the Washington Post editorial board writes:

“YOU CAN’T fault President Obama for inconsistency. After winning election in 2008, he reduced the U.S. military presence in Iraq to zero. After helping to topple Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, he made sure no U.S. forces would remain. He has steadfastly stayed aloof, except rhetorically, from the conflict in Syria. And on Tuesday he promised to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

The Afghan decision would be understandable had Mr. Obama’s previous choices proved out. But what’s remarkable is that the results also have been consistent — consistently bad.”

While the Washington Post is skeptical about the withdrawal, the New York Times editorial board seems disappointed that the timetable has been extended.

“Mr. Obama reaffirmed that he would meet his commitment to remove the last 32,000 combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year, a pace that was too slow from the start. But don’t think this is the end of the American military involvement in the Afghan quagmire…

It is reasonable to ask how two more years of a sizable American troop presence — which one official said could cost $20 billion in 2015 — will advance a stable Afghanistan in a way that 13 years of war and the 100,000 troops deployed there at the peak were unable to guarantee.”

In the end, the nation’s longest war will end (of this we can be confident). The real question as Nick Gillespie (Reason) notes, is a fundamental one: “The decision to attack Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks was both understandable and defensible. But what is the mission in Afghanistan now? Or more precisely, what was it the minute the Taliban was deposed and the trail for bin Laden went cold? Was it nation-building? Was it creating one more spot on the planet where goodwill toward America could dissolve into the sand once again?”

There’s been a lot of commentary in the press about last weekend’s elections to the European Parliament. Most noted has been the rise of euroskeptic and far right parties in several countries. The far left also made advances, with a Marxist party coming first in Greece and a surprisingly strong performance from a new far left party in Spain. Yet we should also keep some things in perspective:

  • As the image to the right shows, the far right and far left combined will have just over 10% of the seats in the European parliament. Other euroskeptical parties will add another 8-9% to that total. The center-left and center-right blocs are the largest, as ever.
  • European Parliament

  • The European Parliament has little power to roll back European integration in any case. The irony of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s success in European elections in Britain is that they can do very little to withdraw Britain from the EU from their seats in Brussels. Until euroskeptic parties start forming national governments, we aren’t going to see any countries seriously reconsidering European Union membership.
  • There is not a positive correlation between the level of unemployment and the percentage of the vote for the far right. Some of the high-unemployment countries, like Greece and Spain, had very strong performances from the far left, but it still seems that national economic performance did not drive far-right voting. Still, the Eurozone crisis has damaged the legitimacy of EU institutions and markets more generally. Economic decline, even when caused by government or central bank mismanagement, always seems to undermine public support for free enterprise and international openness.
  • Even in the UK, public opinion on European integration already seems to have turned the corner. In no EU member state does a majority favor withdrawal.

Graduation is upon us. Many of my students are graduating with higher student loan debt than they would have imagined and limited job prospects. A few weeks back when I discussed future plans with several graduating seniors, there was a sense of dismay and a sense that the odds were against them given the poor economy and, more importantly, the trends in inequality.

The good news (which I guess could also be bad news, depending on the depth of your commitment to equality) is that the degrees they are earning may well contribute to inequality. A new paper by MIT’s David H. Autor turns attention to inequality among “the other 99 percent.” We have heard quite a bit about the growing concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent. As Autor notes:

Between 1979 and 2012, the share of all household income accruing to the top percentile of U.S. households rose from 10.0% to 22.5% To get a sense of how much money that is, consider the conceptual experiment of redistributing the gains of the top 1% between 1979 and 2012 to the bottom 99% of households. How much would this redistribution raise household incomes of the bottom 99%? The answer is $7107 per household—a substantial gain, equal to 14% of the income of the median U.S. household in 2012.

But what if we look at the “other 99 percent?” Here we have a story of the wage premium associated with higher education. And these gains simply dwarf the above-mentioned figures.

consider the earnings gap between a college-educated two-earner husband-wife family and a high school–educated two-earner husband-wife family, which rose by $27,951 between 1979 and 2012 (from $30,298 to $58,249). This increase in the earnings gap between the typical college-educated and high school–educated household earnings levels is four times as large as the redistribution that has notionally occurred from the bottom 99% to the top 1% of households. What this simple calculation suggests is that the growth of skill differentials among the “other 99 percent” is arguably even more consequential than the rise of the 1% for the welfare of most citizens.

Obviously there is a difference between cognitive ability and credentialing. My students who have majored in the “department of fashionable studies” will likely not make as great a contribution to inequality as might have been the case with a different major.

Bottom line: the paper is interesting throughout, engaging some important issues such as intergenerational mobility and the policy implications.

For additional coverage of the paper, see Jim Tankersley, Wonkblog. An interview with Autor can be found here.

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