January 06, 2004

Screams and Leaps...

Daniel Drezner takes understandable exception to my characterization of him as screaming and leaping fangs-bared for Paul Krugman's jugular...

He states that when he wrote that "[Paul] Krugman is either wrong or has a different definition of 'unusual' than the rest of the English-speaking world. Distortions like this one could explain parodies like this one..." he did not intend to:

  1. Provide an unfavorable description of Paul Krugman
  2. Impugn Paul Krugman's motives
  3. Convey the impression that Paul Krugman lied
  4. Or ascribe any form of malign intent to Paul Krugman

But intended only to state that he believed Krugman to be wrong.

Unfortunately, for Dan, of the four claims made by Krugman in his paragraph at issue:

  1. The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but other labor market indicators paint a less favorable picture.
  2. Because an unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, dropped out of the labor force, and thus escaped being counted as "unemployed," the rise in unemployment is smaller than we would have expected given the fall in employment.
  3. Many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed--there is an unusually large gap between the number of people who say they are working for employers and the number of people whom employers say they have working for them.
  4. And such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years.

All four are correct. There is no "error."

However, looking back over what Paul Krugman wrote:

An aside: how weak is the labor market? The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but there's something funny about that number. An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed, and many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed. Such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years.

I have to concede that Dan has half... no one-third... of a point. The way that Paul's paragraph is constructed as a web of assertion and qualification, the phrase "worst job market in 20 years" applies only to a few "measures" of labor market conditions like "the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs." But the way that Krugman's paragraph is constructed as a piece of rhetoric, the force of "worst job market in 20 years" leaks out of its proper box and extends its penumbra over the entire paragraph. Most measures of labor-market conditions suggest the worst job market in 10 years. Only a few--the fall in the employment-to-population ratio, the duration of unemployment--suggest that things are clearly worse now than they were in the early 1990s, and thus that we have the worst job market in 20 years.

Posted by DeLong at January 6, 2004 09:15 PM | TrackBack

Comments

The criticism of Paul Krugman's "worst in 20 years" prognostication, while probably well-founded, sounds a little Byzantine.

I'm worried that we aren't concerned enought with substance and too worried about details like tenure and who gets nominated for whatever!

Just a comment.

Posted by: Jim on January 6, 2004 09:33 PM

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Any careful reader would have gotten Krugman's point, the writing isn't as exact as one would wish, but anybody actually interested enough to write a response should have understood Krugman.

Drezner gets 0 points.

Posted by: CalDem on January 6, 2004 10:43 PM

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heck, anyone as interested in current events as Drezner should have the numbers at his fingertips, if not already in memory.

disappointing; I usually consider Drezner good on the facts but biased on their interpretation. hyere the word 'Byzantine' appears generous and certainly seems to apply to DD's criticism.

Posted by: wcw on January 7, 2004 01:07 AM

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>>the phrase "worst job market in 20 years" applies only to a few "measures" of labor market conditions like "the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs."<<

Okay. But...

That particular one is the only one mentioned, and that one is particularly suspect as an indictment of Shrub.

EVERYBODY remembers that the time that laid off workers could draw unemployment benefits was extended by weeks, under Shrub. Right? When the gov't subsidizes something, we all get more of it. So we got more weeks of unemployment. How could it be otherwise in any rational economy?

EVERYBODY remembers that it was the Democrats who initiated this extention, right? And in fact, that Shrub was criticized for not pushing for it himself, not agreeing to the proposal soon enough, not extending the benefits for a longer period, and in general dragging his heels over this whole change. I seem to recall a great bit of chat about this very topic right on this site...

If the measure of how bad things are now is based upon data like duration of unemployment, then it seems unfair or hypocritical to ascribe the problem to Shrub.

If Shrub is at fault for general badness-of-the-economy, there are no doubt other measures of how bad the economy is, that are more attributable to Shrub than this.

How about the dip in factory orders, which, (I again wave an airy hand, unencumbered by any professional need to research the actual facts of the matter..) may be due to the bubble in the steel supply lines as factories switch over from cheap crummy American steel back to the once-again-cheap, tarriff-free, high quality imported steel? (Though, IF that turns out by some miracle to be true, then one might fairly wonder at whose instigation Shrub imposed tarriffs in the first place.)

How about increase in consumer debt? That's bad. Maybe Shrub did something to encourage that. I dunno.

How about the number of families defaulting on mortgages, the number of firms incurring non-productive expenses in moving from hi-tax areas like California to low-tax areas like Arizona, or the number of private hospitals going into corporate chains -- chains which seem to tend to overbill Medicaid/Medicare via systemic "up-coding"? All these are bad. A professor with the resources of the New York Times behind him could pull all kinds of data together and make a plausible case for indicting the government for bad economic policy. (Though some of those indictments might accidently apply to Democratic administrations as well as Republican...)

But that doesn't seem to be his goal.

Posted by: Pouncer on January 7, 2004 03:59 AM

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OK. I had to go read DD's columns and at least he did not explicitly saying Krugman lied. But Luskin did and DD was really rehashing the spin from the "Truth Squad". If DD does not wish to be held responsible for his own writings, maybe he should be more careful before he attacks someone else's writings.

Posted by: Harold McClure on January 7, 2004 06:11 AM

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Now Luskin is mad at Daniel Okrent of the NYTimes. You see, he just rehashed his critique of Krugman's oped and wonders why Okrent has not pulled the plug on Dr. Krugman. Then again, I have to wonder why Luskin does not acknowledge what Dr. DeLong has written here on this topic. Then again - when has Luskin ever care to engage in an honest debate?

Posted by: Harold McClure on January 7, 2004 06:36 AM

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Nicely put, Professor. Dryly sarcastic and (AFAICT) right on the mark.

As you say, Krugman is saying that the job market is the worst it's been in twenty years, and Luskin's response is "LIAR!! By some measures, the job market is only the worst it's been in ten years!"

I can't tell whether Krugman meant that the job market is the worst in twenty years my most or all reasonable measures (my original reading) or only by a few specific measures (your reading), but it isn't the palpable hit it looked like.

Posted by: J Mann on January 7, 2004 06:48 AM

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Also, it's a bit of a straw argument to say that Drezner didn't mean to convey an unfavorable impression of Krugman, or whatever qualification #2 is. Drezner said that he thought Krugman was either wrong or misleading, but that he didn't accuse Krugman of being a liar or speculate as to his intent.

That's not a positive comment re: Krugman, but it appears to be based on a reasonable (but possibly mistaken) understanding of what Krugman meant, rather than by Drezner's membership in "the Slime Machine" or by "loony hackdom."

Posted by: J Mann on January 7, 2004 06:55 AM

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In other words, it's perfectly all right for Paul Krugman to strenuously imply things that he doesn't outright say . . . but when Daniel Drezner does such a thing (an assertion I'd challenge, but you'd expect that from me) it's a hanging offense? Have I got that right?

Posted by: Jane Galt on January 7, 2004 08:24 AM

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Pouncer: “When the gov't subsidizes something, we all get more of it. So we got more weeks of unemployment. How could it be otherwise in any rational economy?”
Are you seriously saying that people rationally calculate that collecting unemployment is superior to getting a job? In Tennessee, unemployment pays about half of the claimant's lost weekly income up to the maximum weekly benefit amount. Unemployment benefits are subject to federal and state taxation.
Do you really think that rational people make calculations about getting a job just like they decide how much milk they want? Do you know anyone who does that?

Posted by: Masaccio on January 7, 2004 08:52 AM

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Masaccio

When my mother was laid off in the mid-90s, she did exactly what you suggest. She took her severence pay, drew unemployment, and took a nice 6-month long vacation before she ever seriously considered looking for work.

Perhaps she is a unique case, but it certainly happens.

Posted by: MattJ on January 7, 2004 09:00 AM

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"I usually consider Drezner good on the facts but biased on their interpretation."

And of course, Paul Krugman could never be accused of that! ;-)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on January 7, 2004 09:23 AM

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screams and leaps . . .

Ringworld?

[go check Amazon. aha! Ringworld is searchable. pg. 14 of the paperback edition. "In challenging a kzin, a simple scream of rage is sufficient. You scream and you leap."]

yes, Ringworld, by Larry Niven.

[gloat.]

cheers, and happy new year, professor.

Posted by: FDL on January 7, 2004 10:18 AM

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Yeah, I've always thought that unemployment benefits were the main cause of unemployment too. Another thing which tends to cause unemployment is the collection of unemployment statistics.

Posted by: Zizka on January 7, 2004 11:27 AM

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"screaming and leaping fangs-bared"

That is not a complete description. You forgot to mention specifically, the phylogenetic group to which he belongs, so that the reader can make the proper assessment of your view of his character.

Posted by: northernLights on January 7, 2004 11:30 AM

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>>screams and leaps . . . Ringworld? <<

Of course.

:-)

Posted by: Brad DeLong on January 7, 2004 11:42 AM

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A final scorecard:

BDL - DD "screams" and "leaps" to make a "fake" and "loony" "fangs-bared attack" on PK. Comment: This characterization of DD's post is perhaps a tad overheated.

DD - PK says numbers of "discouraged" workers" and of "part-time workers who wish they were full time" are "unusually" high. These "distortions" are "wrong" unless PK has an unusual definition of the word "unusual." Comment: It is true that these "distortions" are "wrong," but the distortions are DD's, not PK's. He never said what DD says he said.

PK -- 1. "An unusually large number of people have given up looking for work ...." Comment: "Given up" usually, but not always, implies a motive for the act, that is, stopping because of discouragement. In this case, however, PK must mean to "give up" looking for work for any and all reasons, even, for example, for sickness or retirement. Slightly sloppy, particularly when he knows that there are those blinded by partisan hatred who are determined to twist his words.
2. "Many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed." Comment: By using the word "marginally employed," it sounds like he is using a word of art, but he's not. He's simply referring to the disparity in the results reported in the household and the payroll surveys. Again, slightly sloppy.
3. "Worst job market in 20 years." Comment: I don't read the paragraph the way that BDL does, and as DD does, with the 20-year tag leaking out of its proper box and extending a penumbra. I think PK is genuinely puzzled -- How weak is the labor market, anyway? He points to two indicators, one, the unemployment rate, which is pretty good, and one, the duration of unemployment measure, which is the worst in 20 years. He gives two reasons why the first indicator, the unemployment rate, may be misleading. I don't read this paragraph, however, as coming to any conclusion. I think he is confessing that he just doesn't know.

One final thought: PK stands up to and exposes the BushAdmin propaganda, and thank goodness for that. PK, of course, is relentlessly attacked by BushAdmin apologists. Perhaps the ferocity of these attacks induce his defenders to respond in kind. Perhaps responding in kind is not the best way to persuade others.

Posted by: joe on January 7, 2004 12:01 PM

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Well, Joe, we've seen the result of 'they'll attack, we won't respond'. It's callled 'the GOP controls all three branches of government'.

IIRC, the 1992 Clinton campaign had a war room, whose policy was to never allow the sun to set on an attack - response was to be immediate.

That worked.


We're not in the sort of world where the intemperate attack earns massive distrust; we're in the world where it not only succeeds, but can reshape discourse until those who point out the truth are 'conspiracy theorists', 'anti-semites', and (sin of sins!!!) 'shrill'.

Posted by: Barry on January 7, 2004 12:43 PM

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I'm not saying that we shouldn't respond vigorously to intemperate attacks; I'm only saying that we should not respond intemperately if we wish to persuade anyone who is not already in the choir.

Posted by: joe on January 7, 2004 12:50 PM

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Brad DeLong wrote,
">>screams and leaps . . . Ringworld? <<
"Of course."

Huh. If you like Kzin screaming and leaping, try the many-authored "Man-Kzin War" series.

Posted by: Stephen J Fromm on January 7, 2004 02:06 PM

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I have often wondered why Krugman does not use the total payroll ($) numbers as a corrolary to the unemployment numbers. IE, if US companies were paying out $750b month in 12/2000, and are now only paying out $700b month in 12/2003. Would this not buttress the argument about people no longer seeking employment, underemployed, but even more so point towards people that are now working for half of what they did three years ago?

Note - Have searched the web for hours trying to find the total payroll by month in dollars to no avail.

Posted by: chris/tx on January 7, 2004 02:20 PM

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It is hard work to defend Krugman. I wonder if Mr. Delong gets paid. Let's see....Krugman's points (interpreted by Mr. DeLong) are;

1. The measured unemployment rate of 5.9 percent isn't that high by historical standards, but other labor market indicators paint a less favorable picture.

BB asks:

Do the "indicators" point to less favorable picture, or is it Mr. Krugman's interpretation that "paints" it?

I'll comment on the particulars below, but rhetoric like "worst in 20 years" taxes one's credibility. I mean here is an economist who advocates a "Europeanization" of our economy; bigger safety nets; more progressive taxes; more government "investment." et. al.

And where is the EU in "employment"? With a few exceptions like Ireland, their employment picture hasn't gotten near our "worst" in 20 years. And we are supposed to be more like them. Why?
___________

2. Because an unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, dropped out of the labor force, and thus escaped being counted as "unemployed," the rise in unemployment is smaller than we would have expected given the fall in employment.

BB asks: Hmmmm. Can we add back in the numbers of people who ARE employed, but don't report it for tax reasons? How about those Drug dealers? They work hard. Do they count?

The point is that if some one doesn't show up on the survey, they aren't on the survey. Sure, a ideologue can opine that all these people are "discouraged worker" and have "given up" looking for a job.

But it could just as easily be that some people made enough in the last bubble/run up that they can sit out a few years.

Not that I'm a "scientific survey", but I personally know at least 10 people who feel well enough off not to have to scramble for another job. They are not yet retired, but they aren't "unemployed".

This is a good example of Krugman/DeLong "painting" things, not "indicators."
_______________

3. Many of those who say they have jobs seem to be only marginally employed--there is an unusually large gap between the number of people who say they are working for employers and the number of people whom employers say they have working for them.

BB writes:

Are these "surveys" interviewing the same people? Along with the people 10 I know who haven't felt the need to look for work are the others 10 or so who started their own businesses.

Two or three of these have actually contracted/hired others. Along with all these reports of "discouraged" workers come other reports of growing ranks of self-employed and the difficulty in measuring them.

Either way, this "gap" could be evidence of changing demographics, difficulty in "surveying" these changes, or "the worst job market in 20 years" It all depends on how one "paints" it.
___________

4. And such measures as the length of time it takes laid-off workers to get new jobs continue to indicate the worst job market in 20 years.

BB asks:
So if the job market rebounds sharply in the next 2 months, creating say 200,000/month, all the conservatives can say that we have "best job market in 50, 100, or 1000 years."

So what? As "economists", Krugman, DeLong, Luskin, whomever, can spin all they want. Much of this misses the real issue, IMO.
_________

I find it interesting that everyone talks about macro policy as if it was the controlling factor in all of this. No one talks about the individuals who are "unemployed." (unless it's pity piece in the news)

How many people have moved to areas where there is more work instead of wait for "things to get better" where they are.

How many are un/under employed because they have parents who can take them back in indefinately?

How many have gone back to school because they are smart enough to know that some jobs are gone forever. (Yeah 1.2 billion Chinese and 1.1 Indians are Bush's fault.)
___________

These are all factors that make up the "job market".

How many people know/think that it is their responsibility to find work more so than it is society's responsibility to provide for them?

Unemployment is more (or at least as much) an individual issue than it is a matter of policy, at least in "free country".

BB


Posted by: BB on January 7, 2004 03:47 PM

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A Fisking! A Fisking! Here on Brad DeLong!

This is a first for me.

I didn't know people did that lame shit anymore. I thought they'd been laughed to death.

Posted by: Zizka on January 7, 2004 08:11 PM

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"Yeah, I've always thought that unemployment benefits were the main cause of unemployment too. Another thing which tends to cause unemployment is the collection of unemployment statistics."

No, just their publication :-).

Posted by: cm on January 7, 2004 09:25 PM

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BB: Despite my previously expressed preference to be factual, let me remark that I consider your post to be a bit on the cheap side, especially in your judgement of other people.

"It is hard work to defend Krugman. I wonder if Mr. Delong gets paid." -- I let this one speak for itself.

"And where is the EU in "employment"? With a few exceptions like Ireland, their employment picture hasn't gotten near our "worst" in 20 years. And we are supposed to be more like them. Why?"

Gee. The unemployment figure is an _indicator_, not a goal function. Look at overall living standards (and by "overall" I don't mean average -- don't lump Bill Gates and 1000 homeless together and compare them by average to a well-to-do small city.) But then "living standard" is perhaps even more subject to subjective judgement than unemployment figures -- for example, what is the value of 30 days of annual vacation, universal healthcare, and (decreasingly) a less stressful life?

"But it could just as easily be that some people made enough in the last bubble/run up that they can sit out a few years."

That's true, and I know a few myself who have taken their (involuntary) unemployment and difficulty to land a quick job as an opportunity to do some long overdue stuff like housecleaning, remodeling, or repairs, that they couldn't get done while working off their ass and wasting away on the weekend trying to recover some of the sleep debt. But even so, they are (unmeasuredly) part of the employment "picture", but not the rate. Still some of even those may qualify as discouraged -- but I don't want to argue principles here.

"Along with all these reports of "discouraged" workers come other reports of growing ranks of self-employed and the difficulty in measuring them."

"Discouraged" worker is a well-defined notion in the unemployment survey, defined (roughly) as somebody who wants to work but has not been looking for reasons of slim prospects. They cannot double as self-employed. And regarding the self-employed, it is even difficult to define fairly a notion that is equivalent to "un/underemployment". If you are self-employed, but despite making "reasonable" efforts to find clients/assignments, you can work (with paychecks, that is) only 1/2 the time that you would, is this not similar to involuntary part-time work?

"So if the job market rebounds sharply in the next 2 months, creating say 200,000/month, all the conservatives can say that we have "best job market in 50, 100, or 1000 years.""

If it is sustained for a "reasonable" period, why not? I have not read anybody claiming otherwise, so it looks a bit rhetorical. And it is a hypothetical as well.

"No one talks about the individuals who are "unemployed." (unless it's pity piece in the news)"

"How many have gone back to school because they are smart enough to know that some jobs are gone forever."

Now you _are_ talking about the individuals. So all those who are still looking or not without going to school are not "smart enough"?

"How many people know/think that it is their responsibility to find work more so than it is society's responsibility to provide for them?"

Can you provide evidence, or do we have to accept this insinuation as it stands?

"Unemployment is more (or at least as much) an individual issue than it is a matter of policy, at least in "free country"."

I'm wondering (factually, not judgingly) whether you have ever lived in, let's say, "modest" circumstances in an environment where opportunity has been hard to come by for you.

Posted by: cm on January 7, 2004 10:08 PM

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Ok, can some of the econ gurus help me with apoint?

Paul Krugman says that "[a]n unusually large number of people have given up looking for work, so they are no longer counted as unemployed."

Prof. DeLong says that it's incorrect to use the Bureau of Labor Statistics' measure of "discouraged workers" to determine whether the "number of people who have given up looking for work" is "unusually large," and it's better to use change in the percentage of working age people who are working (I think) to measure "people who have given up looking for work."

1) What's wrong with the "discouraged worker" definition? To my (untrained) eye, it looks closer to "people who have given up looking for work" than P. DeLong's measure. What am I missing?

2) By Prof. DeLong's measure, is the fraction of the working age population that is not working actually "unusually large?"

Posted by: J Mann on January 8, 2004 08:06 AM

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Note the difference between those who are interested in reasoned discussion/debate (CM) and those who don't seem up to it.

Posted by: BB on January 8, 2004 08:18 AM

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You're not missing anything, J.M. If we're trying, as Krugman was, to answer the question "how weak is the labor market?" then I should think that (other things being equal) we'd prefer a measure of how many people are leaving the workforce due to discouragement in job-hunting over a measure of how many people are leaving the workforce for any reason whatever.

It could be that other things aren't equal. I expect we can all agree that the BLS probably isn't capturing all discouraged workers. But for purposes of comparison ("worst job market in 20 years") this matters only if the *proportion* of discouraged workers caught by the BLS number is decreasing. No one has yet suggested why we should suppose this to be the case.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek on January 8, 2004 09:10 AM

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CM is one of nature's noblemen and I'm not. That's why he gives undeservedly civil answers to the likes of BB. Why bother responding to a lot of random assertions and conjecture. And I mean -- A LOT.

Posted by: Zizka on January 8, 2004 09:31 AM

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J Mann: Not a direct answer to your question, but I offer, what is the important thing to measure? You can define "unemployment" and "discouraged worker" any way you want and then quibble who is not looking for work because they have given up hope or who is sitting it out on their small treasure they accumulated during better years.

Ultimately it comes down to how much the economy has to produce (to feed/sustain its people), how much it potentially can, and how much it actually does. When you know some good indicators of those things, you can try to explain why what happens, and try to steer things in a more desirable way.

Also note that the household survey covers just 60, 000 households, and I have some doubts over its accuracy (whether the sampling is somehow biased and does not cover certain categories of people).

Various employment indicators are just that, indicators, and they suffer from different methodological flaws that are difficult to remove.

And the number of jobs says little directly about the living standard of their holders. What is more important to you -- that you have a paying job, or that you don't have to sit in the rain and starve? (Not that the two are opposites.)

Posted by: cm on January 8, 2004 09:34 AM

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CM wrote: Despite my previously expressed preference to be factual, let me remark that I consider your post to be a bit on the cheap side, especially in your judgement of other people.
"It is hard work to defend Krugman. I wonder if Mr. Delong gets paid." -- I let this one speak for itself.

BB writes:
In an environment where Bill Clinton is accused of being a rapist and Bush is accused of being a Hitler, I think my left handed compliment of Prof. DeLong is pretty tame. This blog seems to be populated with left leaning people who (mostly) DON'T foam at the mouth, so I find it refreshing and enlightening. Everything Krugman isn't.

CM asked:
Look at overall living standards (and by "overall" I don't mean average -- don't lump Bill Gates and 1000 homeless together and compare them by average to a well-to-do small city.) But then "living standard" is perhaps even more subject to subjective judgement than unemployment figures -- for example, what is the value of 30 days of annual vacation, universal healthcare, and (decreasingly) a less stressful life?

BB writes:
A well stated question. These "subjective" things are decided at that ballot box. (Or the courts, when the "people" don't vote the way they are "supposed" to.)

Europeans tend to lean towards a model that "imposes" these "benefits" upon people with the support of the electorate (one could argue that). In the US we haven't (pick one) gone that far/sunk so low.

Value questions...
Vacation?
Why should 30 days of vacation be mandated? What ever happened to asking for more vacation if you want it.

Is this more difficult right out college? Probably. But anyone with a decent resume has the power to bargain time for money (or other benefits). Blue collar workers may have a more difficult time doing this, but it is still possible. (Isn't that what Unions are for?)

Universal Healthcare?
Under such as system, my health care coverage would suffer (this causes me stress), and the health care of others wouldn't improve that much.

Certainly, there is a need for massive improvement in our system, but the fault lies as much with the structure of Medicare and its bungling as it does with the healthcare/insurance industry.

Further, as any economist could point out, any system that divorces the consumer (patient) from the provider (doctors/hospitals), as do all single/third payer schemes, is bound to be less efficient than one that doesn't.

Stress?
Yes, the EU, like the intellectually flabby American Suburbanites, are serioiusly worried about stress.

Having grown their welfare states to comfortable proportions while the US taxpayer paid for their security throughout the cold war, they now grumble at the prospect of having to compete with 1.2 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians. (Most of whom want a shot at the life style of the West.) The evil Bush makes such a good whipping boy under such circumstances.

Heaven forbid things change, it's so "uncomfortable". They can bill me.

I feel stress as I pay 30%+ of my earnings to the Federal Governement, 3-8% to my corrupt state (Illinois), and whopping $8-9000 dollars in property taxes, 70% of which goes to a public education system turning out a nation of morons.

Now you politely ask me to pay for the healthcare/vacation of walking whales who eat fat and drink coke as their heart and their pancreas race to see which gives out first.

Cry for me, CM, I'm stressed.
___________________________________

CM asked: (responding to my question in quotes)

"How many people know/think that it is their responsibility to find work more so than it is society's responsibility to provide for them?"
Can you provide evidence, or do we have to accept this insinuation as it stands?

BB writes:
This was a rhetorical question used to state my opinion. I wasn't trying to "insinuate" anything.

One of my favorite quotes is "A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."

IMO, a society that focuses on building safe ships (independent individuals) will outperform a society that focuses on building safe harbors (safety nets). This is not to say that two are mutually exclusive, but to the extent that resources spent on one (a bloated and inefficient education system whose members are safe from competition) takes away from the other ( a nation of well-informed, well-educated individuals), I'll vote for safe ships.

CM insightfully asks:
I'm wondering (factually, not judgingly) whether you have ever lived in, let's say, "modest" circumstances in an environment where opportunity has been hard to come by for you.

BB writes:
It depends on your point of view. I went through what I would call "hard times", and my net worth is way below my high school class average. On the other hand, I never saw myself as a victim of "the Man" (or anything else).

Yes, I've been blessed with the intellect and the temperament to "find work" virtually anywhere that there is something that needs to be done.

While I realize that this isn't possible for everybody, I have found that it is far more possible than most people think.

I can personally take credit for saving at least 10 people from the "birth, school, work, death" cycle promoted by the media-academia-government-culture, and I've only just begun.

Posted by: BB on January 8, 2004 09:44 AM

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It seems like it might have been more accurate for Krugman to say:

"Although the current unemployment numbers of 5.yadda percent don't appear to be that much worse than employment during the Clinton years, the comparison would be deceiving. During the Clinton years, the percentage of the working age population that was actually looking for work increased, and much of that increase has now been reversed. In many ways, we have returned to the pre-Clinton economy."

Posted by: J Mann on January 8, 2004 10:35 AM

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What I'm really trying to say, I guess, is that the underlying argument is whether the Clinton employment numbers are a reasonable expectation.

If it turns out that Krugman really meant "employment has returned to pre-Clinton levels" and Luskin et all are disputing whether Krugman's right that the numbers are "unusually" bad, then we're really discussing whether the last few years are a sustainable goal.

Posted by: J Mann on January 8, 2004 10:37 AM

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"[...]I can personally take credit for saving at least 10 people from the "birth, school, work, death" cycle promoted by the media-academia-government-culture, and I've only just begun."

Sorry, but I do not see how you could do that in a meaningfl way. You cannot avoid either birth, since three would be no individual to save from whatever. You cannot save someone from death since at any future time they can die. School, is needed to learn to get a vocabulary, and read and write and calculate so as to move well in work, it does not means institutional schooling. Work is what gives us independent economical ressources.

So what gives?
DSW

Posted by: Antoni Jaume on January 8, 2004 03:14 PM

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Antoni asks:

Sorry, but I do not see how you could do that in a meaningfl way. You cannot avoid either birth, since three would be no individual to save from whatever. You cannot save someone from death since at any future time they can die. School, is needed to learn to get a vocabulary, and read and write and calculate so as to move well in work, it does not means institutional schooling. Work is what gives us independent economical ressources.

BB writes:

You remind me of the 1988 Bush/Dukakis debate, where Dukakis; referring to Bush's use of the term "1000 points of light" in his nomination speech; says "I don't get this 1000 points of light, what does it mean, I don't get it."

[Apparently Bush didn't either - Peggy Noonan got him elected.]

Let me spell out the "birth, school, work, death" thing for you.

First, I used the four words to define a cycle.

Now, in a nod to your extreme literalism, I confess that you are correct. I don't have powers over life or death. (though I may have prevented a few stress-induced heart attacks)

I do, however, have a pretty good idea on how to enjoy the interval, and spending ages 5-18 (or 22) in institutions (which most people do) so that you can work in the same career for forty years (boring!) isn't it, IMO.

Now, I have no illusions that many people want to live their lives this way, and I certainly wouldn't want to stop them, unless and until they say they have the "right" to live that way at my expense.

[enter trade protection, occupational licensing, and smashing up Seattle so that Indians and Chinese can't sell me cheaper software and other goods]

So I tell as many people as I can that they can homeschool their kids (unless you live in Germany)

or

Invest their kid's college savings in starting them up in a small business, so the kid can go to college a few years later more financially secure and mature, should s/he want to.

or

Read the book "Die Broke" - great advice for a person of any stripe or persuasion.

or

quit their corporate job and start up a business or three, so that they control their destiny, instead of some great government/corporate collective.

I hope this helps.

BB


Posted by: BB on January 8, 2004 06:41 PM

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Don't read this comment if you are offended by truthful discussions of ridiculous male behavior!

It looks like this thing is finally winding down. In my assessment, it looks like the argument has been approximately 25% serious discussion and about 75% worthless male BS.

I'm not really qualified to comment on the serious part, but I feel qualified to comment on the BS. So, Brad DeLong and Dan Drezner, you have both been worthy opponents and I'm sure that a lot of other women have gotten a kick out of this as well! When men are at the height of ridiculousness, we want them to be as creative as possible, in order to provide us women with the maximum amount of amusement value!

I think I will have to declare Brad DeLong the winner, for the "screaming and leaping" characterization, although someone on the comments board had to point out to him the phylogenetic category "Ringworld" to which it belonged. That omission caused him to lose considerable face among women, since his amusement value dropped considerably by that oversight.

But do not lose heart, Dan Drezner. It will be very very difficult for Brad DeLong to repeat such a creative characterization, and I am certain that by the time the next dueling activity arrives, your arsenal will be much greater, impressive, and amusing than his. He will not be able to think of anything, and will have to resort to getting ideas from his totally worthless male economic compatriots, and you know how good those guys are at creative writing!

Posted by: northernLights on January 8, 2004 10:19 PM

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On the one hand, someone on the comment board *did* mention that "scream and leap" was a Ringworld reference.

On the other hand, DeLong's response made it clear that he knew and intended to make the reference.

In the gripping hand, you're an .

Posted by: J Mann on January 9, 2004 06:21 AM

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