Tag Archive: Ezra Klein

Dec 12 2012

Obama and Boehner’s Grand Betrayal: Gullible Democrats Buy Into Good Cop, Bad Cop Theatre

Yes, we know what is driving the latest performance behind this fiscal sham.

It’s basically good cop, bad cop; or bad cop, worse cop theatre to get you to sign off on this grand betrayal as UKMC economist William K. Black aptly calls it.

Dec 09 2012

The Great Debate on the Grand Sell Out of Medicare

Whether you voted for Barack Obama or not, the reality is he is on the same path he was on for the last four years and that is to sell out the majority of Americans to reach a “bargain” with Republicans, who lost the election, on the mythical “fiscal cliff” and the  unconstitutional “debt ceiling.” Part of that sell out is raising the eligibility age for Medicare recipients to 67. This little nugget has started a “great debate” and a bit of an internet dispute about whether or not this is a good, or even workable, idea.

In his article at AMERICAblog our friend Gaius Publius, who is just reporting it, quotes Paul Krugman’s reaction on his NY Times blog to Ezra Klein’s commentary in The Washington Post on Jonathan Chait’s article in The New Yorker, who thinks that raising the eligibility age by two years is an OK idea. What the Herr Doktor said:

Ezra Klein says that the shape of a fiscal cliff deal is clear: only a 37 percent rate on top incomes, and a rise in the Medicare eligibility age. [..]

First, raising the Medicare age is terrible policy. It would be terrible policy even if the Affordable Care Act were going to be there in full force for 65 and 66 year olds, because it would cost the public $2 for every dollar in federal funds saved. And in case you haven’t noticed, Republican governors are still fighting the ACA tooth and nail; if they block the Medicaid expansion, as some will, lower-income seniors will just be pitched into the abyss.

Second, why on earth would Obama be selling Medicare away to raise top tax rates when he gets a big rate rise on January 1 just by doing nothing? And no, vague promises about closing loopholes won’t do it: a rate rise is the real deal, no questions, and should not be traded away for who knows what. [..]

All that effort to reelect Obama, and the first thing he does is give away two years of Medicare? How’s that going to play in future attempts to get out the vote?

If anyone in the White House is seriously thinking along these lines, please stop it right now.

Meanwhile, Chait’s article, Go Ahead, Raise the Medicare Retirement Age, prompted David Dayen’s response at FDL and the Wanker of the Day Award from Atrios.

Dayen’s critique prompted some poutrage from Chait and Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly, who was more concerned about “tone” than the consequences of raising Medicare’s eligibiliy age.

Which resulted in Dayens’ response to Chait, the ill informed Ezra Klein comment agreeing with Chait that the Affordable Care Act would “blunt the pain,” and a hat tip to Kilgore’s pique about “tone.”

Meanwhile, Karoli at Crooks & Liars gets it in her response to Klein’s interview with Peter Orzag, former director of the Obama Administration’s Office of Management and Budget, currently Vice Chairman of Global Banking at Citigroup:

Listen Up, White House! Take Medicare Eligibility Age Off The Table NOW.:

Raising the Medicare eligibility age is terrible, awful, horrible policy that plays right into the Republicans’ goal of killing Medicare altogether. Obamacare does not change that fact in substantive ways. Here’s why, in bullets:

  • Adverse selection – Obamacare or no Obamacare, raising the eligibility age means people enter the Medicare system with a higher likelihood of health problems. Even if they have health insurance before they’re eligible for Medicare, facts are facts: The older one gets, the more likely health problems become.
  • Administrative costs – Medicare’s administrative costs consistently come out to about 7 percent. Obamacare allows for administrative costs of 15 percent. Extending coverage via Obamacare means higher, not lower, costs to the government and the middle class. Subsidies will cost more for that older group as well as for the younger group, since insurers will set a higher baseline on young people in order to pad reserves for older people because of the 3:1 ratio requirement on rates between youngest and oldest.
  • Workforce phase-outs of older employees – This is the dirty little elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about. Because of the high demand for jobs right now, older employees are being shoved phased out earlier. Beginning at around age 50 to 55, jobs become scarce for older workers, leaving them with a 10-15 year gap before they become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. That means they’re living on their savings, home equity, or odd jobs just to scratch their way to the social safety net. Moving that football means leaving them on the hook for 2 extra years, not only for living expenses, but also covering their health insurance, whether or not subsidized.

[..]I’ve been told by some pragmatic liberals who I usually agree with that I’m being unreasonable on this point. I beg to differ. It is not reasonable for Peter Orszag to say we’ve gotten a concession from Republicans because privatizing Social Security is off the table entirely. That’s a little like saying we’re really lucky that they’re holding the gun to our hearts instead of our heads. The impact of conceding any ground on Medicare eligibility is immeasurably negative for Democrats.

HELLO, Barack, raising the eligibility age for Medicare is a really bad idea.

May 21 2012

Austerity Is Economic Suicide

The economic crisis in Europe and the austerity response to it which has spread from Greece to other countries in Europe has dominated the news now for weeks. This past weekend the leaders of the G-8 met at Camp David where it was the main topic for discussion. While President Obama’s statement that encourages stimulus and growth as solutions to the EU problem, he did not discount austerity as one of the driving policies that has extended the downturn and caused social upheaval in Greece and now Spain. The reporting in the traditional mainstream media has been particularly lacking ion balanced analysis and, in some cases, some pretty sloppy and biased reporting.

William K. Black, an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, former litigation director for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and a white-collar criminologist, takes reporters at the New York Times task for their profound ignorance on covering Europe’s financial, social, and political crises. He explains why they are so wrong:

Economists have known for roughly 75 years that adopting austerity in response to recession or depression will make the economic crisis grow and last far longer.  Austerity is to economics as bleeding was to medicine. [..]

The NYT article focuses on Alexis Tsipras, the Greek political leader whose party rose to prominence by promising to reject the loan-for-austerity program that the disgraced former Greek government agreed to at Berlin’s diktat. The article’s theme is that Tsipras is endangering all of Europe by demanding an end to austerity being imposed on Greece.  The reporters write, as if it were undisputed fact, that Tsipras has started “a high-stakes game of chicken with Europe’s leaders.”  But that reverses the facts.

The game that Berlin designed required the Greek to agree (1) to drive their economy off a cliff into a deepening Great Depression through increased austerity, (2) to force an enormous reduction in working class wages, (3) to sell Greek islands to private parties, and (4) to give up other aspects of sovereignty so that hostile, foreign, and private entities such as the IMF and the ECB could monitor its governmental actions.  The Greeks are now refusing to commit economic, political, and social suicide.  The Germans are demanding that they drive off the cliff because “a deal is a deal.”

If Greece were to drive off the cliff by adopting greater austerity it would likely destroy the EU.  Austerity would force Greece into a deepening depression, eventually lead to a default on Greek sovereign debt, and tear Greece apart.  Austerity has already generated a substantial neo-Nazi party in Greece.  Few Americans recall the Greek civil war between the right and the left that began in World War II and continued for several years after the war or the post-war coup.  Greeks recall the civil war and the coup and fear their resumption.  Proponents of the Berlin Consensus already have blood on their hands because of the suicides engendered by mass unemployment, small business failures, and hopelessness.  If the Berlin Consensus sparks a civil war or coup it could be fatal to the EU.

The EU crisis was also the topic of a heady discussion on this Sunday’s Up with Chris Hayes. Prof. Black was joined on the “Uppers” panel by Betsey Stevenson, former chief economist for the Obama Labor Department, Karl Smith, assistant professor of economics and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and MSNBC policy analyst Ezra Klein.

Eurozone in fragile balance

Mr Hayes’ assessment of the political situation in Greece was challenged by a commenter at his blog. Carol P Christ wrote with regards to the political and social responses to the crisis:

Since you are a member of the Progressive Left, you might reconsider calling Syriza the ‘far” Left in comparison to ‘far’ right Golden Dawn. There is no comparison between the 2. Syriza is a coaliton of parties to the left of centrist PASOk and to the “right” of KKE the Communist Party. You might be voting for them if you were in Greece, but you surely would NOT be voting for Golden Dawn. There is NO “comparison” between the 2. Continuing to compare the 2 parties makes it seem that all Greeks are irrational. There is nothing irrational about voting for Syriza. [..]

The “austerity” programs of the EU and banking systems have already destroyed our economy. To blame immigrants as Golden Dawn does is illogical. To ask voters to reject the terms of the second austerity package which is leading to massive unemployment and daily failures of small businesses is by no means irrational.

The Green Party is also against the austerity packages. And we are not “irrational” either.

The dualistic thinking of the west (ironically a legacy of Plato) leads to the demonization of the “other” as irrational. Unfortunately Greece has been portrayed as the “irrational” other within Europe for some time now.

Greece does need to change, but punishing the poor and middle classes is not a “rational” policy. [..]

Let me add that the European union and the Euro should not be confused. The Euro has only been in existence for 11 years. England with one of the largest economies in Europe is not a member of the Euro, nor is Sweden. They are still part of Europe and the European Union.

In Greece the Euro led to a massive rise in prices (a cup of coffee from $1 to $3-5, etc.) without a concomitant rise in wages. For example a tour bus driver makes E700 a month and a radiologist E1400, wages that are near poverty level in the US. depending on family size. Yet the cost of living is as high or higher than in the US, thanks to the price rises that the Euro brought. Gasoline is over $10 a gallon. Sales tax is 23%.

The European Union is a good thing, but the Euro was driven more by market forces and the desire to sell goods freely in Europe, than by a concern for world peace, the environmental protection, or any of the other good things the European Union is working on.

The Euro has not been a good thing for Greece, in my opinion.

(I have taken the liberty of posting most of Ms. Christ’s comments because I think they go straight to the heart of the misrepresentation that is taking place in the traditional news media.)

In another article at the New Economic Perspective, Prof. Black reports that the former head of the European Central Bank (ECB), Jean-Claude Trichet, thinks that by giving European politicians the power to declare a sovereign state bankrupt and take over its fiscal policy it would salvage the euro. To quote Prof. Black, “austerians have decided that since democracy is the problem, imperialism is the answer.”

Nor are fixing the problems of the euro a solution for the austerians:

Trichet, however, says that answer is impossible:  “For the European Union, a fully fledged United States of Europe where nation states cede a large chunk of fiscal authority to the federal government appears politically unpalatable, Trichet said.”  Democracy remains the stumbling block, but Trichet has an answer to that problem – crush democracy.  He proposes that the EU:

   “[T]ake a country into receivership when its political leaders or its parliament cannot implement sound budgetary policies approved by the EU. The action would have democratic accountability if it were approved by the European Council of EU heads of states and the elected European Parliament, he said.”

Of course, the “sound budgetary policies” he means are the suicidal, and failed policies of trying to balance the budget during a Great Recession.  He does not understand even now that a nation in a severe recession cannot simply decide to run a budget surplus.  It can try to do so, by cutting spending or raising taxes, but those policies are likely to reduce already sharply inadequate public and private sector demand, which increases unemployment, increases demand for public services, and reduces government revenue – all factors likely to increase the budget deficit.  I am sure that the Greeks will consider the loss of their sovereignty at the hands of hostile foreign powers who openly sneer at the Greek people to represent the epitome of “democratic accountability.”

And what was the reaction of Berlin to Trichet’s policy to force suicidal austerity on the Greeks and bleed their economy while removing their sovereignty and right to democratic rule?  You know the answer.

As Prof Black so aptly noted that that austerity is “a policy where you’re handed a gun and told to shoot yourself. Eventually people say, ‘Now exactly why should I do that?’. [..]

Whether Greece is the good or the bad, the policy is stupid.”

The United States is not Greece. It has its own sovereign currency and a bond market which it controls. We do not need to follow the EU and shoot ourselves with austerity.

Oct 10 2011

Could The Economy Have Been Different?

Washington Post columnist, Ezra Klein wonders “Could this time have been different?”

Christina Romer had traveled to Chicago to perform an unpleasant task: she needed to scare her new boss. David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s top political adviser, had been very clear about that. He thought the president-elect needed to know exactly what he would be walking into when he took the oath of office in January. But it fell to Romer to deliver the bad news.

So Romer, a preternaturally cheerful economist whose expertise on the Great Depression made her an obvious choice to head the Council of Economic Advisers, gathered her tables and her charts and, on a snowy day in mid-December, sat down to explain to the next President of the United States of America exactly what sort of mess he was inheriting.

[]

By that point, the shape of the crisis was clear: The housing bubble had burst, and it was taking the banks that held the loans, and the households that did the borrowing, down with it. Romer estimated that the damage would be about $2 trillion over the next two years and recommended a $1.2 trillion stimulus plan. The political team balked at that price tag, but with the support of Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary who would soon lead the National Economic Council, she persuaded the administration to support an $800 billion plan.

The next challenge was to persuade Congress. There had never been a stimulus that big, and there hadn’t been many financial crises this severe.

[]

Romer and Bernstein gathered data from the Federal Reserve, from Mark Zandi at Moody’s, from anywhere they could think of. The incoming administration loved their report and wanted to release it publicly. Romer took it home over Christmas to double-check, rewrite and pick over. At 6 a.m. Jan. 10, just days before Obama would be sworn in as president, his transition team lifted the embargo on “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” It was a smash hit.

“It will be a joy to argue policy with an administration that provides comprehensible, honest reports,” enthused columnist Paul Krugman in the New York Times.

There was only one problem: It was wrong.

In his assessment of Klein’s review of why we are still in an economic quagmire, Paul Krugman generally agrees except:

Ezra Klein has a generally reasonable analysis of the Obama administration’s failure to respond with sufficient force to the economic crisis. Broadly speaking, he’s saying that the eurovenn applied: an economically adequate response lay beyond the bounds of the politically feasible.

In general, I’m trying not to do too much looking back; the question is what to do now. Still, I guess this needs addressing.

There’s certainly a lot to Ezra’s thesis. Yet I think he lets Obama and company off the hook too much.

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Now, Ezra may be right that none of this would have made much difference. But the White House was weak and confused in the face of a political and economic debacle, when it should have gone all out.

And you know what? It should still go all out. The chances of success are lower than they would have been if it had taken a strong position two years ago, but it ain’t over until it’s over.

h/t Meteor Blades