August 07, 2002
More Evidence That Mickey Kaus Has Joined the Neoconservatives

Which is the biggest problem: that six million children around the world die annually from hunger, or that the Alliance to End Hunger is asking slanted poll questions in an attempt to convince American politicians that voters do really care about reducing world hunger?

A relatively normal person would say that the first is a more important world problem. But what gets Mickey Kaus outraged and excited is the second.

Kaus has thus passed through the third of the four stages of becoming a Rhinoceros... excuse me, a neoconservative.

The first stage is to hold that the flaws--the mighty flaws--of the center-left in American politics are important enough to more-or-less balance the flaws of the right. The second stage is to start making desperate and implausible excuses for Republican politicians and functionaries. The third stage is to lose contact with the substance of public policy issues, and focus instead on intellectual and rhetorical "errors" made by those left of center. And the fourth stage is to start acclaiming right-wing political hacks as noble thinkers, and right-wing office holders as bold and far-sighted leaders with a plan to guide us to utopia.

There's still time for Kaus to return to his neoliberal roots. But not much...

Posted by DeLong at August 07, 2002 07:40 PM | Trackback

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Instead of fulminating about Mickey Kaus, whoever he is, I wish you would address more important matters, such as what on earth is keeping the US from becoming like Argentina. I read in the NY Times that Argentina is now approaching 27% unemployment, and now a popular game show there is awarding jobs as they would unusual prizes. And then I read that the Argentinian crisis is dragging down Uruguay as well. And now Brazil is getting wobbly. When I read things like this I get bloody frightened and wonder how much time there is left before we see 27% unemployment in the States.

Perhaps it's because I'm Canadian, but I don't find American politics to be worth talking about at all. It manages to be both depressing *and* boring. And the only thing worse than reading an opinion about American politics is having to read the invariable tedious "bipartisan" battle that follows. It's not as if one day American politics is talked about and then next day, news about the German economy leads to a discussion about Schröder vs Stoiber, and then the day after that news about the Brazilian economy with lots of talk afterwards about whether Lula is dangerous or not.

If I did want to read about American politics, there are plenty of other places I could go, but there are not many places I can go to read trustworthy things about economics and the American economy, so I wish you would stick to that, or if you must talk about American politics, please open a sub-journal so I can run screaming from it and stick to reading about economics.

Posted by: Jay Shorten on August 7, 2002 08:53 PM

'When I read things like this I get bloody frightened and wonder how much time there is left before we see 27% unemployment in the States.'

Probably the amount of time left before the earth hurls itself into the sun. :)

Seriously, we have a credible central bank, a political system that keeps deficits from getting too far out of hand, and our debts are almost entirely denominated in our own currency. Those are the problems with Argentina, Brazil, etc.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 7, 2002 09:19 PM

Interestingly, the vast majority of Brazil's public debt is denominated in Reais and held by Brazilians; Brazil has run budget surpluses for some years already (with civil servants not getting any raise for 8 years!); and Brazil's central banker is one of the darlings of Wall Street, voted central banker of the year 1 or 2 years ago.

Yes, I agree that the US is not close to reaching 27% unemployment (neither Brazil is), but your correct argument seems to be based on incorrect assumptions - perhaps you are a natural born economist!

Posted by: bordon on August 7, 2002 09:29 PM

Oh don't be so stupid Jay.
The one obvious lesson of the Republican's in the 80's and 90's and that by defining the debate you can control it. If you can have enough people, all the time, stating a clearly outrageous position (eg the US should unilaterally invade Iraq or the US should give up the income tax and resort to a poll tax or regulation of any form is evil and should be abolished) then after a while adopting a view that's not quite as extreme can be presented as a "moderate and centrist" policy.
This is why discussion of the US media and pundits matters; because it directly affects future policy. And US policy matters because it directly affects the world.

As for Brad, it's his web page so he can do what he likes, and since he was part of a previous presidential administration, he naturally has some interest in US politics.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on August 8, 2002 01:54 AM

I've never understood why citizens of a small country (in population and economic terms) sharing a huge land frontier with the global hegemon which is also their largest trading partner, claim that they don't care about its politics.

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 8, 2002 05:32 AM

Jay,

The differences between the US and Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay, in their institutional workings, in the kind of political debate, in the levels of corruption, in the economic activities they rely on (have you heard about developed vs. "developing" or underdeveloped countries???) that to think the US could have 27% unemployment based on events in Argentina, is quite ridiculous.

You might as well ask yourself what keeps the US from being a Communist dictatorship, or an Islamic state. Worthy questions, from a philosophical point of view, but quite apart from real world issues.

bordon,

From, The economist

The government is running a large primary fiscal surplus (which excludes interest payments), but has limited control over fiscal solvency, as three-quarters of domestic public debt is indexed either to the exchange rate or to the overnight rate.

So even if it is in reales, it is effectively denominated in foreign currency - which means a devaluation has a negative balance sheet effect. It's true that bondholders are in a majority Brazilian, but that hasn't kept them from demanding dollar returns. At the same time, a sizeable part of American dollar-denominated debt is held by foreign investors.

Brazil has run surpluses, that's true. But that does not mean it is in the same league as the US, basically because it remains to be shown that it is a bipartisan decision. In fact, that is the main cause of this crisis: the concern that a leftist party winning the upcoming elections would undo what Cardoso has done (including removing the central banker - a practice far more common in these countries than in the US).

Posted by: Euge on August 8, 2002 06:34 AM

So now Micky Kaus is against hunger. Please.

One reason to read Kaus is that he has an insight into the way professional journalism works. That's what I take to be the import of his hunger story: an advocacy group can have a bogus study placed as a *news* piece in the Washington Post. That sounds like a fair catch to me, and indeed, seems like the definition of good media criticism.

Posted by: ben on August 8, 2002 06:47 AM

Bwahahaha! Great stuff, Brad. I can't tell you how many bloggers I can fit on to this scale.

Jay: as others here have said, the Republicans have shown an uncommon ability to change the nature of the public debate in order to control it- to use their extremes in order to present a "moderate" alternative that would still seem extremist were the definition of "extreme" and "moderate" not so totally altered by these factors. This is a huge problem in modern American politics.

Speaking of that, it's absolutely the case that American domestic politics matter outside the United States. First, because they affect foreign policy, especially now that an environment exists where the public actually pays some small amount of attention to foreign policy. More importantly, though, American politics affect the American economy (as the market tanking every time Bush opens his mouth made perfectly clear), and while one can get a grip on the American economy without looking at the political scene, it's a pretty weak model at best.

As a Canadian, you should also know that politics in the U.S. influence politics in Canada- the policies of the Alliance and the various Conservative parties on the provincial level are massively influenced by the Republican party, and the political culture in Canada is heavily influenced by that of the United States. Even if those outside of North America don't need to be familiar with American politics, Canadians do, because it directly affects them. Who the president is, who controls Congress, what legal precedents are being set in the United States... these are valid and important concerns for a typical Canadian, and woe betide those who think otherwise.

Posted by: Demosthenes on August 8, 2002 06:48 AM

Euge,

you quoted the Economist:
"The government is running a large primary fiscal surplus (which excludes interest payments), but has limited control over fiscal solvency, as three-quarters of domestic public debt is indexed either to the exchange rate or to the overnight rate."

The translation is that less than one quarter of Brazil's domestic public debt is indexed to foreign currency.

The overnight rate is not indexed to foreign currency and guess what, Brazilian investors do not necessarily look for dollar returns, example, in the build-up to a possible meltdown of the Brazilian currency, one of the favorite assets to which they run is real estate.

Posted by: on August 8, 2002 07:21 AM

Which is the biggest problem: that six million children around the world die annually from hunger, or that the Alliance to End Hunger is asking slanted poll questions in an attempt to convince American politicians that voters do really care about reducing world hunger?

None of the above, evidently: the biggest problem is Mickey Kaus' reaction to slanted poll questions.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek on August 8, 2002 07:35 AM

you've missed the point of Kaus' comment, which is:

why was WAPO (an ostensibly neutral, journalistic entity) suckered by such flim-flam ?

also, maybe I'm reading your comment wrong, but an (unkind) reading of you're '..biggest problem..' statement could be: 'who cares if if we lie to the public bycooking up phony poll questions -- something has GOT TO BE DONE about the starving children !' this is the kind of paternalistic, intellectually bankrupt crap that drives right-wing nuts like me crazy.

Again, I'm not accusing you of it, it's just an observation

Posted by: John Brennan on August 8, 2002 08:17 AM

Yourlevel of assumption taht the left is perfect and the right is dumb is quite impressive. Even the stages you list are staggeringly arrogant.

Stage 1: First, you lump the "center" and the "left" together against the right - the assumption being that the right is so wildly out of touch with realitiy that all "center" people agree more with the "left". That's quite a stretch by itself. Then, with a tongue-in-cheek comment about mighty flaws, you strongly imply that anyone who thinks that the left has any significant flaws is loony, and you assume that the right is chock full of huge flaws. Well written, I must admit, but quite arrogant.

Stage 2: This stage assumes that Republicans needs someone "making desperate and implausible excuses" and implies that the left does not.

Stage 3: This assumes that one cannot be in "contact with the substance of public policy issues" and be on the right - apparently, only those on the left can do that.

Stage 4: This assumes that no one on the right can ever be "noble thinkers" or "bold and far-sighted leaders".

The sad part of this is that the same exact stuff could be said the other way just by switching left and right. It makes no argument - it is essentially a veiled ad hominem attack against the right.

Posted by: Deoxy on August 8, 2002 08:37 AM

Six million children are dying of hunger directly due to civil/political cultures that allows rampant corruption (not to mention a the use of starvation as a tool to control political opponents). The only way to prevent political corruption is to expose it. We need a reliable media to maintain trust in our democratic republic.

Mickey is right to expose intentional bias, also known as lying, in one of the pillars of American media. He is carrying on a tradition of protecting trust in American institutions.

When institutions abuse that trust, they should walk the perp line and go to jail. When the media abuses that trust, they should be exposed and have their credibility damaged. Sincerity and good intentions do not give you the right to lie.

And the only way to help the six million children is to start at the top - teach the leaders of starving nations some accountability, to be trustworthy, to work for the common good, and you are 95% of the way there. Exactly how to do that remains a little more difficult, of course.

Posted by: Todd Kice on August 8, 2002 08:57 AM

Of course, Kaus' main problem is the eventual effect of (in this case) a left group claiming (in essence) that the correctness of the views and policy choices makes lying to get what they want okay. Haven't we learned yet about ends/means problems? Chicken Little claims (even about real problems) will come back to haunt you.

Posted by: Dave Ivers on August 8, 2002 08:59 AM

One of the things I love about the blogging format is the instant feedback/criticism/fact-checking. It makes it much more difficult to lie about the facts. And as one of my favorite radio talk show hosts, Larry Elder, likes to say, "Facts are to liberals as kryptonite is to Superman".

So I guess it's not too surprising that liberals view other (lapsed) liberals who expose the facts as heretics. What could be worse than Mickey Kaus revealing the truth about a phoney-baloney "hunger" survey? After all, exposing the truth could hurt the children! So Kause must be a traitor to his "neo-liberal roots". A few more truth-exposing episodes by Kaus, and it will be pretty obvious that he has gone beyond being a traitor: he's turned into a right-wing fanatic!

Posted by: Daniel Wiener on August 8, 2002 09:13 AM

In this specific case, I think it's less amatter of Kaus's personal politics or priorities than just his MO. It's why I don't read Kaus, because he's become almost entirely a meta-commentator. He no longer makes any substantive points in any debate about policy. Instead, he focuses all his energy in making points *about* the debate. What tactics are people using, exact back-and-forths in the media, blah blah blah. He's glossing on the glosses.

It's just a modification of the way 90% of reporters now cover national politics. The issues themselves are now rarely mentioned, and everything has become "covering the horse race" When a president takes a stand, the pundit shows don't talk about whether or not that position is correct or beneficial, they talk about how it will affect their poll numbers, and how it will be spun, and how it will play to core supporters, etc.

Posted by: Doug Turnbull on August 8, 2002 09:15 AM

to Doug T:

I agree that what we might loosely call 'media criticism' is Kaus' forte at this point.

Some people (like me) find it entertaining and informative.. and I assume that although you are not one of them, you will admit that it has some importance.

from my perspective, I have no real idea why (or even if) 6 gazillion kids are starving (or being raped, or losing their teddy bears) each year, but since I don't like being lied to, WaPo should be held to account when they serve as a vehicle for the deception -- true?

Posted by: Jon Brennan on August 8, 2002 09:44 AM

I think Josh Brennan has basically got this pegged. Kaus does media criticism, and in this case, it's exceptionally good media criticism. The Post got used and abused by an advocacy group peddling a bogus poll. DeLong seems to think this is ok because it's in a good cause. Give me a break -- dishonest journalism is dishonest journalism. DeLong is, I'm sure, all over economists who fudge figures to support policies they 'know' are important. Kaus is just policing his discipline: no mystery there. The puzzler is why this harmless rebuking of the Post provoked such a ludicrous cheap shot. My guess, some fallout over Kaus' Krugaman-bashing. Cause, you know, everyone who bashes Krugman must be some kind of moral or intellectual failure.

Posted by: ben on August 8, 2002 10:03 AM

Fortunately, I had never read a word by Kaus till today. A few minutes was enough to keep me from ever reading another word. What is there to be learned from such tripe. Not conservatism, not criticism, merely blathering tripe.

Posted by: on August 8, 2002 10:35 AM

I'm just a bit curious as to why someone reading the Kaus' entry re: the WaPo / Hunger Alliance stuff would dismiss it a 'blathering tripe' ..


what is there to be learned? well, assuming that Kaus is right (just for the sake of discussion), a major national newspaper is printing propaganda as fact -- 'hhmmm... no big deal, nothing to see here, folks, just move along!'

Posted by: Jon Brennan on August 8, 2002 11:01 AM

I suggest you read The Washington Post regularly or The New York Times and follow up issues that interest you. Perhaps learn about hunger in Africa and think about the problem. The Post as The Times is excellent. There is always an effort at thoughtful and careful and fair editing. Mistakes are corrected. Mean spirited ideologues should be of no interest to a thoughtful person.

Posted by: Arthur on August 8, 2002 11:35 AM

why do you assume I don't read the Times and Post regularly? I actually do ..


if pointing out inaccuracies makes one a 'mean spirited idealogue' how, pray tell, do the 'mistakes' get corrected?

Posted by: Jon Brennan on August 8, 2002 11:43 AM

I have nothing useful to add re 27 percent unemployment, but I do want to weigh in on Kaus-Krugman-de Long-Marshall, etc. etc. -- the blogosphere is beginning to become solipsistic real fast. In one sense it recalls the NY Review of Books in the 70s -- what Dwight Macdonald thinks about what Susan Sontag thinks about what Noam Chomsky thinks about etc. etc., ad libitem ad nauseum. A more unkind comparison would be CB radio -- once thought to be the great democratizer, now pretty much reduced to serving as a device for truckers to use in ducking traffic tickets.

Posted by: jda on August 8, 2002 11:48 AM

I'm surprised no one has brought up the real reason Kaus has been moving to the right... welfare reform!

Seriously, from what I have seen, Kaus' main interest is in social issues, especially welfare reform. A lot of liberals predicted a catastrophe after Clinton signed the welfare reform bill (and I don't think the NYT was too kind to it either). Subsequent events, however, seem to have proved Kaus right. If one "side" seems to be consistently wrong about an issue you care about, I think there's a tendency to drift to the other side.

Posted by: rncarpio on August 8, 2002 12:10 PM

Brad,

YOU were entirely correct. There is no question that extreme world poverty would always be regarded as an important issue by a substantial majority of Americans. Though lessening world poverty has been and will continue to be a most difficult obligation, we should be concerned about it as a people. Explain to people what America is doing, and many, probably most would opt for us to do more. Remember that Jesse Helms has changed his attitute on aid for Africa recently after discussions with religious leaders about the needs. YOU are right. Teach of the struggles of people in Nigeria or South Africa, and there will be empathy. Thank you for raising the issue. Thank you for engaging in a sturggle with a Rhinoceros.

Anne

Posted by: Anne on August 8, 2002 12:30 PM

The welfare angle is interesting because Kaus really is one of the few pundits who has it right. The Democrats, despite genuine concern for welfare families, basically got it wrong. Yet the Republicans are hardly better. The lack of pride in what was clearly a policy success does suggest that many Republican politicians supported welfare reform solely on cust-cutting grounds. Indeed, doesn't the absence of GOP chest-thumping suggest a pervese lack of interest in reminding GOP constituents about the minority groups reform helped?

Kaus is stuck between people who were right for the wrong reasons and people wrong for the right ones.

Also, Kaus has always been a fairly superficial writer, but I think the expose on the hungry children poll is evidence of his shift to the right. (Are there unslanted poll questions? -ed.)

Posted by: Quincy on August 8, 2002 12:33 PM

Who gives a shit what that idiot Canadian Jay Short-One thinks about a goddamned thing?

Posted by: s on August 8, 2002 12:50 PM

Contrary to your hidden premise, the center-left is not the broad middle of the American philosophical road. There's an argument that it is, but an equally valid one might be made that the center-right is in that position. It's probably wisest simply to note that both have center in them because they mark the boundaries of the middle lanes. The outer lanes of the road on either side are where most of the pulling in policy matters originates and, when one side or the other starts to gain an advantage, the whole roadway shifts toward that side. It's only natural to see our own dearly held beliefs as being the simple, sane, most mainstream form of thought. But that doesn't make it so, as is obvious when one considers that perfectly normal, reasonable people with a set of beliefs which are diamterically opposed to our own feel the same way about thier beliefs.

The facile manner in which lefties toss around the phrases "right-wing" and "extremist" used to bother me. But now it simply amuses me. Branding any and all policy proposals with which you disagree "right-wing extremism" does not harm those proposing them. It serves only to undercut your own message by making you seem like a twit. People have heard that phrase so often they turn you off when you say it.

The fact is, very few truly "extreme" policies are espoused in our public fora these days. The mainstream of American thought is quite a wide highway. It has room for proposals to nationalize health care and to privatize social security. As a right-of-center type, I'd be inclined, were I to use your methods, to brand HillaryCare "left-wing extremism" while you no doubt consider privatizing social security just one more example of the dreaded "right-wing extremism." But neither is "extreme", though both certainly run in the outside lanes of the road. Until you accept that the one is no more "extreme" than the other, you're just going to go on sounding like a twit who can't think for himself and must therefore resort to parroting Dick Gephardt's Talking Points to have anything to say.

Posted by: The Dodd on August 8, 2002 12:51 PM

It is a little amusing to read opinions to the effect that blatant lying by a major national newspaper, in the form of a phony poll, is of such little import, compared to other issues, as to be unworthy of comment. Folks, when one's reputation as a reliable liar is firmly cemented, then NOTHING that one says will be given credence, even when one happens to be telling the truth about something important. This is precisely why sensible people don't take anything said by a politician at face value. We see this phenomena on many issues. Environmental issues do deserve serious discussion, but the blatant lies, repeatedly told, by many who are most concerned with the issue renders them less effective advocates, not more. Drug use of any kind can be dangerous, but decades of lying about marajuana use rendered the anti-drug message ineffective. If you truly want to make changes to any situation, as opposed to cynically seeking short term political advantage, the first, most intelligent, thing to do is to describe the situation honestly, lest you inadverdantly convince others to discount your further advocacy.

Posted by: Will Allen on August 8, 2002 12:58 PM

'The welfare angle is interesting because Kaus really is one of the few pundits who has it right.'

I agree; I think of myself as a liberal, but I agree with Kaus on that. However, that he decided to get all upset about an article that uses a) questionable journalistic methods to b) communicate the indisputable facts on world hunger is just further evidence to me that c) he's turning into a neocon.

This is important because, except for welfare reform, Kaus is a meta-commentator; as everyone's already said, he's not about the issues, he's all about the debate. What does it say that he's consistently picking liberal targets now, when the actual political landscape out there hasn't changed?

Yes, it's a goofy article, but Kaus's new approach is still revealing, and that's what everyone's objecting to.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 8, 2002 01:19 PM

Maybe Kaus is just a media critic. But isn't that actually a way of joining the debate? There is a lot of insight (about the issues themselves) to be gained by reading such criticism.

Posted by: Ryan on August 8, 2002 01:46 PM

Hmm, maybe too much here to jump in now, but here goes:
Brad is _not_ conflating the center and the left. He is stating the simple, should-be-obvious fact that what is widely called liberal in this country (especially by radio talk show listeners) is actually not much to the left of center - hence, "center-left". True liberal ideas are not in play in the current public debate; perfect example - the idea that Clinton's modest health care proposal was some wild, nearly socialist construct, as opposed to a compromise plan intended to involve private companies, market forces, etc. Single payer is the actual liberal idea (and not that far out on the spectrum, I might add), but people have such a narrow view of the debate that "HillaryCare" could be branded "left-wing extremism." What a joke.
In contrast, "privatizing" Social Security is an idea that, 25 years ago, literally would have gotten a politician laughed off a podium in mixed company. But the think tanks have pushed it for 25 years, and now we're supposed to pretend it's merely center-right. Bullshit. As far as the idea that Clinton's plan was radical? It was more conservative than Truman's plan 40 years earlier. And what a Red he was.
Regarding the original WaPo story: literally thousands of children starve every day. But since it is every day, it's not "news", while a couple of abductions - although statistically meaningless - are "news." Polls by advocacy organizations are intended to bring to people's attention vast, continuing problems that aren't "news." WaPo knows this. It's probably good that people know this, and so in some ways Kaus is bringing up a legitimate point. But look at the misinformation he has spread in so doing. People on this page have suggested that the number of children starving is a lie. It's a fact! The poll numbers are slanted, but the children really are dying, while you -- and Kaus - sit there and condemn the WaPo and the people trying to stop starvation. And Kaus' work has not enlightened - it has darkened, increasing ignorance. And _that's_ why his choice of focus is a problem; it impugns the motives of organizations doing legitimate work.
If he were a nonpartisan watchdog, then he'd be less dangerous. But (and this brings us to another point brought up here) he's _not_ nonpartisan. He does, in fact, focus almost exclusively on the failings & foibles of the center-left and "paleolibs", while defending the actions of Republicans. The Krugman/OMB case is a perfect example. As Kaus' close friend and protege Marshall points out, Kaus would _never_ insist that the OMB is blameless if it were Clinton's (or Gore's). And neither would Rush or any conservative commentator. That's part of our adversarial political system, and it's OK as long as its fundamentally honest. But if you're defending one party while attacking the other...well, you've chosen sides, haven't you?

Posted by: Jason Roth on August 8, 2002 01:51 PM

>> A relatively normal person would say that the first [hunger] is a more important world problem. But what gets Mickey Kaus is outraged and excited is the second [manipulated polls and bad journalism]. <<

Getting back to Kaus in a second, the notion that we should address the "more important world problem" first brings up something that's always troubled me regarding "fight world hunger"-type political appeals.

That is: far more children die from childhood diarrhea caused by bad drinking water than people die from hunger. The last time I looked childhood diarrhea was the #2 cause of death in the entire world. It is a much more important problem. And also an easier one to remedy -- the cure is just a package of salts that costs a few cents, plus providing better water over time.

But where are all the "brown ribbon" campaigns to fight diarrhea?? They could save many more lives sooner and more cheaply than "fighting hunger". If people are really concerned with saving lives -- rather than with political and fund-raising success -- shouldn't the more important and more easily remedied problem come first on the agenda?

Am I a cynic to think we always hear about "the fight against hunger" instead simply because, well, polling shows it is much easier to get the public to affiliate itself (and its votes and money) with a noble-sounding "fight against hunger" than with a "fight against diarrhea"? And that political and fund-raising groups show their actual priorities this way? Revealed preferences and all?

(I remember Canada's former Premier, Pierre Trudeau, once commenting on protestors trying to force the end of hunting baby seals, "But who protests for the baby shrimp?")

Getting back to Kaus, I read him as also seeing signs that the image of starving children is being used for domestic political advantage, to motivate a voting base, without actually doing much about the problem. After all, as Kaus noted, who is for children starving? The key issue is *what to do about it* -- without that being included, this poll has about as much merit as polls saying people are for America when it is attacked, against senior citizens falling into poverty, etc., when they too are used to motivate a political base.

If getting one party elected is the key to substantively reducing world hunger, then when that party was last elected it might have produced more of a reduction. If not, then selling good intentions may do a lot more good for the party than for the hungry. And if one believes one see the image of starving third-world children being manipulated for somebody's first-world advantage, isn't it a healthy sign for one to be at least a little bit upset by same?

Posted by: Jim Glass on August 8, 2002 02:00 PM

A little bit of right wing ecology for you folks. Kaus is more accurately termed a "Conservative" and not the media friendly term "Neoconservative". On two issues immigration and support for Israel, Kaus has shown true Conservative credentials. He is an immigration reformer as any sane and many insane citizens are. He is slightly less friendly to Israel then the average neocon and I don't think they would want him in their tree house.

Posted by: mark on August 8, 2002 02:01 PM

>>Which is the biggest problem: that six million children around the world die annually from hunger, or that the Alliance to End Hunger is asking slanted poll questions in an attempt to convince American politicians that voters do really care about reducing world hunger?<<

If this was an "either/or" situation -- where perpetuating manipulated polls and the shoddy journalism that's manipulated by them would actually help end world hunger -- then there might be more of a point to be made here.

But since it's not, turning a blind eye to manipulated polls and manipulated journalism because one is sympathetic with the goals of the manipulators seems a step in the direction of embracing low standards of honesty for one's own side and "ends justifies the means"-ism. As others have pointed out.

That's a dangerous road to take. And an easy way to lose any justfication for any claim of moral superiority that one might like to make for one's own side.

Posted by: Jim Glass on August 8, 2002 02:19 PM

SCORECARD: Brad is right. Mickey is at best ill-informed, at worst, disingenuous and petty.

Every year -- since back in the day when Art Simon & his brother the Senator both looked like young men -- Bread for the World has conducted more or less the same damned poll. Every year. I know this. The Washington Post knows this.

And, more to the point, Mickey knows this.

Does this poll create hard, empirical data like that used by physicists? No. Duh. It's a poll, and like most polls it scarcely meets the soft standards of the soft sciences. But that's not the point.

The annual ritual of the Bread for the World poll is to provide a "news hook," however slight, that allows news outlets to make mention of the quotidian tragedy of world hunger. This is viewed by all involved in this little dance as a corrective measure to compensate for the fact that journalistic conventions don't allow proportionate coverage for quotidian tragedies like the dog-bites-man holocaust of around 10,000 children dying every day from diarrhea.

If Mickey's post is "media criticism" than it's condescending and ill-informed media criticism.

(OK, so Paul Simon never looked young -- but the point is that Mickey's supposed "discovery" of this perennial poll is about as credible as Reynault's discovery of gambling at Rick's.)

Posted by: Eric Blair on August 8, 2002 02:33 PM

Actually I've followed Mickey Klaus for a number of years (off and on). And my response has always been who cares? I say this because his columns always strike me as petty or better yet petite. Looking at the posts here I now understand why. He appeals to a certain brand of "conservative."

Krugman can take a big issue concerning say the economy and illuminate it. I say this even though I at times disagree with him.

Klaus on the other hand can take a big issue, be it hunger or the economy, and reduce it to meaninglessness. Whether it is his attempts to deconstruct Krugman, or whatever, he looks at the tiniest of details.

Something he doesn't do when it comes to say the OMB, or the "official" line. Klaus for instance claims the OMB "corrected" a press release that erroniously declared that the deficit projections were not caused by tax cuts. The initial release was carried by the press as part of their coverage. They did not reissue this release in a manner that allowed the press to correct its previousdly erronioous coverage. They quietly changed it later on their web site. A way of rewritting history, without retracting the coverage. This is something that Klaus can't quite wrap his brain around.
It is especially interesting that he actually spends time tryuing to prop up the OMB. An agency that is rapidly becoming the most discredited in Washington.

There is a method here. It is an attempt to discredit based on the lawyerly tradition. Aha, if you are wrong on this yadayada, no matter how small or irrelevent, you must be wrong about the big things. "What ? You say sir that you don't remember what socks you wore on the day in question, yet you claim to remember my client stabbing the alleged victem in the back, how can we trust your testimony sir if you can't even remember what color socks you wore on the day in question."

It is not that Krauss is "wrong, " but lacking any sort of clue on how to even comprehend say a recession, or a deficit, he resorts to retailing letters to the editor. When someone is right on a detail but lacking any clue on how that fits in then one can say shall we that he lacks any sense of proportion. Or more than that Klaus is clueless.

Posted by: Lawrence Boyd on August 8, 2002 02:45 PM

Eric Blair,

Is your point that just because they have been doing this sort of misleading poll in the past, that it is ok?

Is you point that because most polls are poorly designed, that we should forgive this one for being misleading, even dishonest?

Do you really believe that poll statistics, in general, just aren't taken seriously?

So I don't understand the rational behind your claim that Kaus is condescending and ill-informed.

Posted by: Ryan on August 8, 2002 03:07 PM

I'd be interested in hearing how Kaus' recent writing indicates any real branching off from his "neoliberal roots" -- or, to put this another way, why neoliberalism, with its faith in the progressive effectivity of the market, is here being identified as something other than a conservative ideology? (the Post-Keynesian economics of Reagan/Thatcher/Friedman aren't called "neo-liberal" for nothing.)

I suspect that there's a nostalgia/fetishism at work here regarding the signifier "liberalism." Setting aside the very real question about this signifier's historically real signifieds -- compromise, accomodation, "capital with a human face" -- to what extent did the neoliberal Kaus (or any self-identified neoliberal for that matter) ever represent the values/ideals claimed by liberalism?

Like Stern's Uncle Toby, Kaus has long been riding a hobby horse. In the latter's case, however, it's a particularly repellant hobby and an egregiously stupid horse.

Posted by: agon on August 8, 2002 04:04 PM

'But where are all the "brown ribbon" campaigns to fight diarrhea??'

My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

'If getting one party elected is the key to substantively reducing world hunger, then when that party was last elected it might have produced more of a reduction. If not, then selling good intentions may do a lot more good for the party than for the hungry. And if one believes one see the image of starving third-world children being manipulated for somebody's first-world advantage, isn't it a healthy sign for one to be at least a little bit upset by same?'

I totally don't buy this. They're a group legitimately against hunger.

Kaus is right; the Washington Post shouldn't have published a story on hunger using polling in such a silly way.

What all of us are complaining about is that he picked *this* thing to complain about. "Let's see, today's story.....oh, this world hunger polling thing looks very important. It's good that I'm still a liberal, otherwise I'd lose my legitimacy as a fair commentator by spending 99% of my time bashing my fellow liberals."

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 8, 2002 04:52 PM

Proponents of a good cause hurt their cause if they support it with phony data. They also supply opponents with cheap ammunition. Much as I dislike Mr. Kaus in his latest incarnation, I am grateful to him for calling attention to the inexcusable (double) blunder. I am even willing to permit him a little gloating in that regard. He does make it more than a little difficult to accept his criticism. Once in a blue moon, however, he does offer sane suggestions and good advice.

Posted by: Lothar Schweder on August 8, 2002 05:54 PM

That's basically how I slid from left to right (except for the part about losing contact with the substance of public policy issues)...

Posted by: Michael Levy on August 8, 2002 06:35 PM

Thank you for your arguments, I have reached a decision.

DeLong 1, Kaus 0

Next topic please.

Posted by: on August 8, 2002 07:14 PM

Is this Instapower? This is the dumbest thread I've seen on this fine blog for quite a while.

I agree: DeLong 1, Kaus 0. When Kaus goes back to doing End-of-Equality stuff, then I'll pay more attention to what he says. At the moment, he's living off capital.

Posted by: Paul on August 8, 2002 07:21 PM

All of these defenses of Kaus would be a lot more meaningful to me if he ever turned his shit-detector toward most of the political coverage in the WashPost & NYT. He's only interested in a very narrow range of truth.

Oh, and isn't it a bit premature to say Kaus got it right on welfare reform? That ship really hasn't quite reached port yet.

Posted by: Avedon on August 8, 2002 07:54 PM

"Much as I dislike Mr. Kaus in his latest incarnation"


Just what *was* his earlier incarnation? How, in heaven's name, do we distinguish it from this (ostensibly) new one? Why -- unless we buy into "neoliberalism" in the first place -- would we even want to make the distinction?

Posted by: agaon on August 8, 2002 08:58 PM

Would anyone care to explain to me exactly what was wrong with this poll? Kaus's criticism (that the question was slanted because "everyone is against hunger" is very weak; in the first place, it clearly doesn't invalidate a poll and in the second, it's not obvious that everyone would select it as being important for a Senate race).

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 9, 2002 03:09 AM

Avedon, Perhaps Mr. Kaus has been a petty-peeve curmudgeon all along. That, anyway, seems to be the role he enjoys playing of late. (No, I'm not suggesting ALL his peeves are petty.) In this, he is less than consistent. Citing very thin evidence, he professes concern about threats of violence coming from the left and directed at the CEO of the current administration. According to him, one indication of that is the cartoon introducing Joe Conason's web log at Salon. (In this, I could, of course, be ridiculously insensitive to Mickey's subtle irony, the same subtle irony he shows in gloating about the likelihood of Salon going broke, a nice touch with regard to an e-zine competitor whose losses are not covered by Microsoft.) He says he likes Lucianne Goldberg. Recently, he praised the "excellent juicy Short Cuts" at lucianne.com, generously overlooking the vicious physical threats her readers feel invited to utter in response to almost any mention of not just the Clintons but practically all Democrats. He also nobly defends Ann Coulter, that paragon of non-violence. His crusade against Paul Krugman and, by extension, the New York Times has turned into an obsession. In this, he has become another Andrew Sullivan. (I agree with him, though, when he attacks Krugman for the injudicious use of the word "lie" in a recent column on an OMB press release.) --- I'm not particularly interested in coming up with the right label for the old or the new Kaus (if there is one). Enough of this tediousness!

Posted by: Lothar Schweder on August 9, 2002 06:10 AM

Kaus isn't a rhino so much as he's a DINO -- a Democrat In Name Only.

But rather than wasting our breath on who is what as a result of what they said where, shouldn't we all be focusing on taking the House back, gaining a bigger lead in the Senate, and strengthening our corps for 2004? At the end of the day, THAT'S what matters.

The more you talk about the Mickster, the more relevant he becomes. A writer is only relevant when he's read.

Posted by: Ann on August 9, 2002 08:19 AM

Ryan,

The Bread poll was "bogus" because it included "fighting the hunger problem" among it's issues? Ooh -- call the authorities, the anti-hunger crowd is giving misplaced-concreteness a bad name.

You want bogus numbers? Four people died of West Nile Virus in Louisiana. Four. How many page-ones covered this story? How much airtime did it occupy? Contrast that with the death-toll/column-inch ratio of mainstream media on the subject of world hunger.

Tony Campolo has a nasty little trick he likes to pull on uptight evangelical Christians. He'll stand in their pulpits and say, "30,000 children are going to die today from hunger and preventable disease and you don't give a fuck." Then, after a beat, "And you're more upset that I just said 'fuck' than you are about those 30,000 children."

You have to be a puritanical jerk with an utter lack of ethical perspective to fall for that trick. Mickey Kaus fell for it.

Posted by: Eric Blair on August 9, 2002 08:39 AM

Correction: Apparently, my previous post should have been addressed to "agaon" rather than "avedon".Sorry, "avedon". No big deal, I hope.

Posted by: Lothar Schweder on August 9, 2002 10:41 AM

Interesting effort to redefine the terms of the debate, Mr. Roth. I find it especially instructive that, to you, the fact that SS privatization (a policy favoured by 56% of the public, even after the stock market declines of the last two years) was a probably cause for ridicule 25 years ago makes it an extremist position but the obvious fact that HillaryCare (which was a rather more pervasive and centralized plan than you describe and which has never garnered anything close to majority support) would also have been derided back when we were toddlers goes unremarked. Isn't it the purpose of think tanks - on both sides - to make the case for policy ideas? Or is it that ideas from "right-wing" think tanks "pushed on" the public while those from left-wing think tanks are, what "taken up by" the public?

If Cato and Heritage have been promoting SS privatization for a long time and it now attracts majority support, that would seem to suggest that the merits of the policy have been recognized. And since it does attract majority support, it cannot - by definition - be an "extremist" idea. Nevertheless, I characterized it as approximately as far from the center as HillaryCare (rather generous of me, really, given the relative support each enjoys among the voting population) in an effort to reach some common ground here. You answered by trying to argue HillaryCare closer to the center and making aspersions as to the provenance of privatization.

All of which, I would say, proves my original point: No-one will take your position seriously until you use words like "extremist" more judiciously. Let me help some more: Proposing to nationalize corporations and all their property is extremist. So is saying we should deport all non-whites from the the country. OTOH, if a notion gets discussed in calm, reasoned tones on Meet the Press, calling it "extremist" will almost assuredly make you look like a) an idiot, b) a demogague or c) both.

Posted by: The Dodd on August 9, 2002 11:53 AM

I have a copy of a petition I keep at my house. It's a petition opposing Canada's gun registry/confiscation law and demanding its repeal. Whenever somebody comes to my door soliciting money or a signature for one of the many worthy causes (including alleviating world hunger) I ask them first to sign my petition after which I will be glad to support their cause (if it is truely a worthy one). Since I began this practice I have not had to make a single donation nor have I signed another petition. I'm telling this story because perhaps Mickey Kaus has come to the same conclusion I have. That the people out there who are most actively looking for support and funding for what they believe in don't respect or support what I believe in. As to his questioning of slanted poll questions and use of inaccurate statistical data. Bang on! Once you've been caught lying and distorting information, you've effectively corrupted the very cause you claim to be helping. If you've been watching the news you'd see that CEO's and CFO's of big companies get fired and charged under criminal law for doing the same thing. What makes you think unethical behavior is OK if the cause is worthy?

Posted by: John Tilley on August 9, 2002 12:08 PM

So let me get this straight: an advocacy group comissions a poll with possibly slanted questions, and then uses those poll results to generate media coverage favorable to its cause? I'M SHOCKED! Wow, this is really important news that Kaus has uncovered.
This is the kind of thing that political groups of all stripes do, and will no doubt continue to do in the future.
To the extent that Kaus points out that Post has given one of these advocacy efforts too much credence, he's done a minor service. But it's an extremely minor one. After all, the alleged distortion doesn't even have to due with the actual problem of world hunger! It has to do with a poll purporting to measure the U.S. public's perception of the problem.
So what we're arguing about here is one commentator's analysis of another media outlet's coverage of an advocacy group's attempt to measure the level of public concern over the problem of world hunger. Meanwhile the actual problem of world hunger doesn't even get talked about. This is meta-analysis carried to the point of absurdity.
Why is it that Kaus always seems to focus on piddling issues like this? (My theory: because it plays to the vast audience of conservatives who have made a fetish out of how they are the poor and noble victims of liberal media bias. But that's a different post.)
On the larger point, Delong is 100% right.

Posted by: RC on August 9, 2002 12:55 PM

>>What all of us are complaining about is that he picked *this* thing to complain about. "Let's see, today's story.....oh, this world hunger polling thing looks very important. It's good that I'm still a liberal, otherwise I'd lose my legitimacy as a fair commentator by spending 99% of my time bashing my fellow liberals."<<

The quality of political debate would be much higher and more enlightening, IMHO, if there *were* liberals who took pride in exposing bogus liberal arguments, and conservatives who took pride in exposing bogus conservative arguments.

They'd be castigated as being disloyal by many on their own side, no doubt, for putting mere truth before what's important, as Kaus is in this thread. But they could sure reduce the amount of bogosity out there.

Krugman gained a lot of his good reputation during his Slate days by doing just this, being a liberal who shot down false liberal arguments to focus on the sound ones. He even used to take pride in how much heat he took from his own side -- like in the story he oft' told about the grief he got from the pro-NAFTAers when he made a pro-NAFTA appearance and said, "free trade really isn't going to create all these new jobs you know, that's not why it's a good thing to support".

'Course those days of him criticizing his own side are long gone, all we've got left is Mickey -- and he's now in danger of being hunted down for his aphrodisiac horn for his trouble.

Posted by: Jim Glass on August 9, 2002 01:01 PM

'Course those days of him criticizing his own side are long gone.....'

The other possibility, you know, is that the Democrats are no longer in a position to make economic decisions. Sure, Daschle can occasionally get up to something, but the GOP is in the driver's seat.

'If Cato and Heritage have been promoting SS privatization for a long time and it now attracts majority support, that would seem to suggest that the merits of the policy have been recognized.'

I'd be amazed if one person in a hundred out there knows the transition costs to a privatized SS system would be north of 3 trillion. The reason it's so "popular" is that for some reason this number hasn't really gotten any play; the plans put forth always hand wave around it.

'Meanwhile the actual problem of world hunger doesn't even get talked about. This is meta-analysis carried to the point of absurdity.'

Yep.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 9, 2002 02:04 PM

If you want to talk about world hunger in a productive fashion, step one is to refrain from lying about any aspect of it, for your lies are counterproductive to your ostensible goals, since the lies cause others to view anything you say, and your very motives, with great suspicion. This applies to any number of issues. Those that advocate privitization of S.S. would be better served if they simply stated that it's main benefit would be to give real property rights to employees who now only receive a promise that some future Congress will sufficiently tax yet unborn workers to pay benefits, without regard to the ratio of workers to retirees, or what level of taxation those future workers will tolerate. Let the current workers decide whether they would rather have at least some personal property, or solely have a promise by the current Congress as to what some future Congress will do. Let the retirees decide whether they wish to prevent current workers from having increased personal property. Medical care is even a more awful example of continual public lying. Nearly everyone inthis debate pretends that some happy, shiny, place exists where everyone gets access to all the medical technology that they would benefit from, instead of acknowledging the undeniable reality that cutting edge health care technology,from drugs to machinery,is among the most scarce goods on earth, and as such, it will be rationed like all extremely scarce goods and services are, by either the price mechanism or by arbitrary restriction of access by political bodies. There ain't any third way; some people will not receive the health care they would benefit from, no matter what regime is adopted. If this were frankly admitted, then the debate could proceed to a straightforward discussion of whether the price mechanism would deliver the best health care to the most amount of people, or whether political bodies could, or what mixture of the two would strike the preferrd balance between the widest access to all,and the highest quality of care to the largest amount of people. No longer would anyone have waste energy toppling strawmen that promise a world where everybody gets what they would benefit from having. I can't think of a single public issue in which there is such a stark refusal by nearly all parties to acknowledge the nature of the debate. I understand why politicians refuse to do so; there aren't many votes to be had by featuring the concept of scarcity in a stump speech. What's the excuse of the journalists/punditry, however? Are they simply ignorant, or do they have other, less visible motivations?

Posted by: on August 9, 2002 02:49 PM

If Kaus' post is "meta-analysis carried to the point of absurdity," then what do we call this thread? And what do we call this question?

Posted by: Miguel V. on August 9, 2002 03:04 PM

A) It is important whether Americans consider global hunger a problem, or not.

Therefore, B) Whether Americans consider global hunger or not a problem is a perfectly legitimate subject for a journalist like Mickey Kaus.

Furthermore, C) When one group publishes claims as to the extent America cares about global hunger that Mickey thinks are false, it IS important that he speak out against them.

And, in addendum, D) Mickey's comments regarding the issue of how much Americans care about global hunger, or the veracity of a poll making a claim regarding how much Americans care about global hunger, have no bearing on his opinions on the importance of global hunger. The two are separate issues, ones that both need to be addressed by American journalists.

That wasn't that hard, Brad. Come on, you're a better blogger than this.

Posted by: David Kenner on August 9, 2002 07:00 PM

'If Kaus' post is "meta-analysis carried to the point of absurdity," then what do we call this thread? And what do we call this question?'

If your favorite musician started sucking like no one's business, would you be upset?

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 9, 2002 09:02 PM

"And the fourth stage is to start acclaiming right-wing political hacks as noble thinkers, and right-wing office holders as bold and far-sighted leaders with a plan to guide us to utopia."

Actually, one of the characteristics of being "right-wing" is not believing in utopias. A rather obvious point to belabor, but it had a lot to do with my own shift from left to right. Cheers.

Posted by: Chris on August 10, 2002 12:23 AM

Actually, one of the characteristics of being "right-wing" is not believing in utopias.<<

That's a strange comment, because from what I've seen and read, many "right-wingers" do implicitly believe in a utopia. It may not mirror the utopia of the left, but it is a utopia nonetheless - a utopia of the free market, a utopia of religiosity, a utopia of criminal justice, and perhaps a few other qualities which I won't name here due to the inability to speak about them in terms other than inflammatory ones.

Posted by: jesse on August 10, 2002 08:03 AM

I'd be amazed if one person in a hundred out there knows the transition costs to a privatized SS system would be north of 3 trillion.

More spin - or attempts to make yourself feel better. The highest estimate I've ever seen is measured in billions - a nontrivial figure (to everyone except a Congresscritter), but rather less than 3 trillion.

However, even if it were closer to your figure than the real one, it would still be a bargain. It could be paid out of current surpluses - which are currently used to buy T-Bills. People are coming to realize, despite years of wilfull leftist obfuscation, that the "Trust Fund" is a hoax and that in 15 years or so when the surpluses dry up, those T-Bills will have to be redeemed with tax increases or benefit cuts. Diverting a small amount of current surpluses to a plan that will a) keep SS solvent for the foreseeable future, b) vastly increase the value of everyone's retirement package, and c) give them personal ownership of that retirement is a policy people will naturally find attractive.

The Left opposes it for the same reason they oppose any other reform proposal, no matter how well-reasoned, that takes control away from government. The soundness of the policy is ir-relevant where that control is at stake.

Which brings us back to the original post: The validity of Kaus' criticism is ir-relevant; if it hurts some 'project' you find important, it's bad and therefore Kaus must be a "neo-conservative" (a word I'd certainly love to see someone actually define here, but I won't hold my breath). Were one of the dreaded "right-wingers" to try and gin up support for some idea of theirs with faulty data you'd no doubt be all over them for their methodolgical misfeasance and use it to support a charge that they'll go to any lengths to "push" their ideas on the public. But if someone criticizes leftie numbers, they're a heretic.

Posted by: The Dodd on August 10, 2002 11:16 AM

Eric (and others),

So you tell an amusing story, but that still doesn't answer the question: Is Kaus simply not allowed to point out a logical flaw used by others to support a worthy cause? You might call him "insensitive", and if you were really indignant you could modify that with "jerk." You might say that Kaus' point is a minor one. But I don't see how he is wrong.

Would it have made you happy if Kaus had preceded his criticism with some lip-service about the urgency of the hunger crisis?

I really would like to know what Kaus did that is so terrible, but you really aren't helping me to figure it out.

Posted by: Ryan on August 10, 2002 12:13 PM

If your favorite musician started sucking like no one's business, would you be upset?

Yep. Now, just think of the Post as Mickey Kaus' favorite musician.

Posted by: Paul Zrimsek on August 10, 2002 03:03 PM

Hunger is southern Africa is a fierce problem, with AIDS in rural communities ever threatening to make it worse. We could do more to help. That is what may be most important about this discussion.

Posted by: on August 11, 2002 11:38 AM

I'm gonna ask this freaking question again since nobody has answered it, but everyone has continued to go on as if the answer was obvious:

-- In what way is it "lying", to include "the hunger question" on a list of issues which might be important to voters, in a poll designed to establish whether or not the hunger issue is of importance to voters?

For extra credit:

-- How the hell else would you establish whether or not the hunger issue was of importance to voters, to the personal satisfaction of the surprising number of qualified pollsters who appear to be posting on this thread?

-- How many of the posters criticising this poll who also have blogs, are gonna look like big fat hypocrites when I dig up the polling methodologies used by the Anti-Defamation League (initial research suggests; at least one)

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 11, 2002 11:56 PM

'Yep. Now, just think of the Post as Mickey Kaus' favorite musician.'

I don't care about the musical preferences of bands I like, if we're going to get that recursive. Formally, the relationship between a producer and a consumer is not the same as that between a producer/consumer and a producer.

'More spin - or attempts to make yourself feel better. The highest estimate I've ever seen is measured in billions - a nontrivial figure (to everyone except a Congresscritter), but rather less than 3 trillion.'

Nope. It's really that big; an entire generation's retirement isn't cheap.

'The Left opposes it for the same reason they oppose any other reform proposal, no matter how well-reasoned, that takes control away from government. The soundness of the policy is ir-relevant where that control is at stake.'

Right. I'm lying to you! We leftists are dangerous.

http://web.mit.edu/krugman/www/socsec.html

'However, even if it were closer to your figure than the real one, it would still be a bargain. It could be paid out of current surpluses - which are currently used to buy T-Bills. People are coming to realize, despite years of wilfull leftist obfuscation, that the "Trust Fund" is a hoax and that in 15 years or so when the surpluses dry up, those T-Bills will have to be redeemed with tax increases or benefit cuts. Diverting a small amount of current surpluses to a plan that will a) keep SS solvent for the foreseeable future, b) vastly increase the value of everyone's retirement package, and c) give them personal ownership of that retirement is a policy people will naturally find attractive.'

You're double-counting. Read the link.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 12, 2002 02:56 AM

Ok, a way-lazy estimate of the unfunded liability in the current SS system:

76 million baby boomers * $712 (married/2) dollars per month in average SS payments * average remaining lifetime of 17 years = 11 trillion dollars. It's highly dependent on what you define a "generation" to be (the boomers probably shouldn't be treated as a single one), obviously, but it's a serious pile of cash.

http://web.pdx.edu/~psu01435/ss95.html

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 12, 2002 03:05 AM

If Krugman wants to retain even a shred of his reputation (now in free fall with all genuine economists who know anything about reality), he needs to devote as much time to criticizing the dangers to his left as the dangers to his right. And by "as much" I mean, of course, "seventeen times as much." So for every NYT column about how Bush's Social Security plans threaten to make old age more difficult for millions, we members of the Committee of Lonely Diogeneses Desperately Seeking Truly Fair-Minded Liberalism assign Krugman six columns each on the following topics:

1) The grave errors committed by Chelsea during her most recent Economics exam at Stanford, and their possible ramifications for a Clinton 2028 administration;
2) How the residual Trotskyism at the English Department of Duke University threatens the maintenance of normal trade relations with China;
3) What Price Al Gore's Olive-Gray Suit?

After completion of this task, Mr. Krugman will become eligible for the CLDDSTFML's coveted "George Orwell Memorial Award," issued each year to the fair-minded liberal who shows the most courage and integrity in nobly standing up to the reigning left-wing orthodoxy. (Previous winners: Chris Matthews, Pat Cadell and David Horowitz [twice].)

Posted by: Jeffrey Kramer on August 12, 2002 04:43 AM

Ryan,

I think Daniel Davies' question answers yours.

Mickey begged the question: the "bogus interest-group poll" was by an interest group and was therefore bogus because it was a bogus interest group poll and we all know that poll's done by interest groups are bogus interest group polls and are bogus and ...

He then, with misplaced exasperation, asked "Who would say fighting the hunger problem isn't important?" By which he seems to mean that the poll's results must not be valid because they are obvious and self-evident. This is a strange way of refuting something.

But aside from the logic and facts, Mickey's argument is fine.

Dan Davies keeps asking the pertinent question: what, precisely, is wrong with the poll? Mickey didn't address that question, and so far no one here has either.

P.S. Mickey's piece wasn't about the poll anyway, it was just Hegel's Bluff.

Posted by: Eric Blair on August 12, 2002 01:02 PM

You're double-counting. Read the link.

I didn't accuse anyone of lying. I read my own post again to be sure of it. At worst, I suggested you had unstated motivations apart from the oft-expressed concern for the well-being of seniors. But opposition is reform is inconsistent with that concern. SS is going to start running a deficit within the next 15-20 years - time enough to repair the system in a way that will allow us to continue paying out collective obligation to current seniors and also ensure that future retirees have something to live on when the time comes.

As for your link, well, I'm not convinced. One undocumented, unfootnoted assertion on Paul Krugman's web page is the best evidence you could find?!? Paul Krugman? The man whose every column is fisked to within an inch of its life in the blogosphere within hours of its publication? Almost the last person anyone who actually expected to convince an opponent would rely on, especially on the topic of SS, a subject about which his penchant for obfuscation and half-truths is utterly unchecked. That you resort to him as an authority is quite telling.

According to this rather exhaustive analysis the appropriate target for that US$3 trillion figure is SS's unfunded liability (as of 1998). Even if the privatization cost was that high, it matches the current expected shortfall - one way or another, it will have to be paid, either by a tax increase and/or a benefit cut or by reforming the system. The difference is that after the transition costs are paid, a private, worker-owned (and therefore devisable) retirement plan would yiled a surplus. Maintaining the status quo absolutely guarantees a shortfall when the surplusses dry up.

In the long-run, the position you espouse will inevitably be more expensive than a market-based alternative, with the gap between the two widening every year. Meanwhile, workers who doe before retirement will continue to lose an entire working lifetime of SS taxes (a circumstance that hits minorities the worst - actuarially, current black workers can expect a negative rate of return due to their shorter life expectancy).

Krugman, of course, does not mention this, but any estimate of transition costs depends on the form of the program adopted. It is quite possible that there does exist a plan which would cost that much. Big surprise that Krugman writes as if that were the only one. It's also equally (un)surprising that he fails to mention the unfunded liability that market-based alternatives are designed to replace. Pure, typical Krugman.

The reality is that the transition can be funded with current surplusses and, once complete, the savings to the Treasury will only increase over time. Doing nothing merely ensures that SS will become unsustainable.

Posted by: The Dodd on August 12, 2002 05:08 PM

Eric B. and Daniel D.,

Kaus explains quite clearly what the problem is with the poll. He says, "It is not as if voters spontaneously came up with 'the hunger problem' when asked what was important...[it] was included on a list of 'a dozen leading issues...'" Kaus also provides a link to an article that warns of "leading questions."

There is a good deal of literature among the social psychologists and political scientists regarding the inconsistency of polling results and the factors that can influence poll respondents. One set of theories point to factors as subtle as the range of questions asked, the order of questions, the particular wording, the physical surroundings of the polling place, etc., that can force the respondent to tap into a certain set of ideas or feelings that are not normally salient. This can have the effect of skewing the results. Indeed, many respondents can be manipulated into saying just about anything. One way of doing this is by presenting them with leading issues. Not that the inclusion of leading issues necessarily makes a poll bogus, but the results of such a poll can only be understood in light of the polling evironment. This is difficult to do seeing as neither the questions nor data seem to be easily available.

But it does not exactly take a "qualified pollster" to identify some of the influential factors in this particular case.

Hence Kaus wonders how the pollsters can have "failed to stack the question more effectively?" Apparently 27.1% of the respondents think that we are already doing enough, or even too much, to fight the hunger problem...so (up to) 6 million people dying of hunger is an acceptable amount. Kaus is not, as you state, using this bit of information to argue that the results of the poll are invalid. Rather he is saying that this information is more newsworthy than its converse.

Neither is Kaus begging the question in this case. I admit to not quite understanding your point about the "bogus interest-group poll," but then I don't think you do either. Interest-groups are not necessarily bogus, polls aren't necessarily bogus, and polls by interest groups aren't necessarily bogus. But this particular poll seems to be, at best, slightly misleading. They could have conducted a more honest poll but they didn't. Kaus simply pointed this out and then a bunch of people got upset. And I'm still wondering why.

Posted by: Ryan on August 12, 2002 07:11 PM

Dodd, I didn't accuse you of lying, just an arithmetic error.

So, let's get this straight:

1) Paul Krugman is unreliable source on SS because bloggers disagree with him.
2) The Cato insitute is a reliable source because.....unknown.
3) The benefits of transitioning to a privitazed system are worth it, because the costs (3 trillion) will be less than the future costs of staying with the current system.

Dodd, imagine, for the sake of argument, each generation pays for its parent's (or grandparents, it doesn't matter) retirement. How much will it cost to transition that system to a self-funded retirement? Right, one generation's worth of retirement.

The transition cost isn't changed by the fact that life expectancy will go up.

'The reality is that the transition can be funded with current surplusses and, once complete, the savings to the Treasury will only increase over time. Doing nothing merely ensures that SS will become unsustainable.'

If the current surpluses, which are currently spent by the government, are used to fund the transition cost, then either taxes need to be raised or spending cut to make up the shortfall. I don't see what's controversial about this, or the multi-trillion dollar number (which is quite a bit more liberal than my back-of-the-envelope calculation above) it results in.

I was dredging through that Cato paper, trying to figure out where the wierdness in it was coming from, when it hit me:

There just isn't enough of a difference due to long-term problems from life expectancy and work-force size to come up with the enormous projected benefit cuts/tax increases that are necessary to "keep the return from one generation to the next" constant, at 42% of monthly earnings or so. Then I realized: why should the future payout from SS be based on your current income, instead of your current social security taxes? There's one enormous problem with his analysis: assuming future payouts should be based on past earnings, not past taxes paid in to the system. Of course that will create long-term structural problems! Especially when you add the following:

What are we doing right now? SS taxes are *far* exceeding SS payouts, and we just roll the excess over into deficit reduction. However, why on earth are we doing that? I mean, wouldn't it be more logical to treat SS as strictly an off-budget "pay for your parents retirement program," instead of also being a subsidy for income taxes being too low?

Notice that in the future, the assumption is that only Social Security taxes will need to go up. Doesn't it make logical sense that instead, seeing how right now we're putting the excess into effectively reducing income taxes, that in the future the shortfall should be raised by reducing income taxes? Excess SS taxes during times of deficits effectively shift part of one generation's retirement burden another generation forward.

Add in that SS taxes are more regressive than income taxes, and boom, there's your explanation of the conservative agenda on this one.

If we want to "fix" social security, the easy way is to a) reduce taxes to match current payouts and b) only pay based on taxes paid in, not "matching past earnings."

Simple summary: large amounts of resources are being drained out of the Social Security system. As long as this goes on, of course the future solvency of the system will be in doubt.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 12, 2002 10:19 PM

'Notice that in the future, the assumption is that only Social Security taxes will need to go up. Doesn't it make logical sense that instead, seeing how right now we're putting the excess into effectively reducing income taxes, that in the future the shortfall should be raised by reducing income taxes? Excess SS taxes during times of deficits effectively shift part of one generation's retirement burden another generation forward.'

Argh, this should be "shortfall should be fixed by raising income taxes."

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 12, 2002 10:21 PM

Two points

1) If this methodology was really "invalid", then the *real* news story would be the invalidity of every single poll of similar type, because listing your favourite issue in the middle of a list of issues is the absolute standard methodology for finding out how important your issue is to the punters. Does anyone think that "seeing what people independently raise" would ever have given us Social Security privatisation as a key hot button issue, for god's sake!?

2) With regard to Social Security, the "transition problem" is the *entire* problem. There is no other problem, because whatever new marginal source of funds one assumes to cover the "transition costs" could also be used to make the existing system solvent.

Posted by: Daniel Davies on August 13, 2002 02:16 AM

Kaus' comments -- in this case (hunger poll) -- seem off base to me. If he has anyone to jump on it is the Post for not providing the reader completely accurate info about the poll. Frankly, the fact that two leading politicos, one a Republican (Jim McLaughlin) and one a Democrat (Bill Knapp) conducted the poll for the Alliance to End Hunger, gives it much more validity in my mind.

Also, the Post is not the only outlet that reported on this finding. Helen Thomas, the senior White House journalist, wrote about it in a recent column; as did Mary McGrory, The St Louis Post-Dispatch, Gannett Newspapers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and USA Today. Were they all hoodwinked by a little anti-hunger advocacy group? Or, as they must have all determined, was there real news there?

Posted by: howard on August 19, 2002 09:31 AM
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