Apr 22, 2012

Somebody Get This Man a Times Column

At my notorious interview for a new job (still no word on that, by the way) one of the questions which I rather flubbed was "Which New York Times columnist would you fire, and who would you hire as a replacement?" Decent question, but I don't read every columnist, rather I get them filtered through Twitter and blogs, so I couldn't really answer for the first part, but for the second I blurted out Karl Smith of Modeled Behavior, though his paragraphs are way too short.

Sort of like how when someone insulted you on the playground back in elementary school, leading you to think up a devastating retort sometime late that night, now I think of the best answer to that question: Steve Randy Waldman. He's got a brilliant update to his post on depressions, and while it's as usual a bit technical, here's a quick answer to my point about breaking the plutocracy:
There is supposed to be a constituency for stimulative policy. The conventional story is that, during a downturn, election-seeking politicians will be recklessly pro-expansion, in conflict with and checked by an independent central bank. But, at least in the United States and Europe, there is surprisingly little appetite among politicians from “mainstream” parties to emphasize either fiscal or monetary expansion. On the contrary, the political conversation revolves around restraining deficits and “being responsible”, which is code for ensuring that the demands of creditors (public and private) are fully satisfied. This may change. In Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain, parties now viewed as “fringe” may gain influence. But despite a years-long downturn of Great Depression severity, so far elected politicians in all these countries have emphasized a narrative of necessary adjustment and responsibility, and have almost never agitated for monetary policy better tailored to Southern Europe or threatened disorderly default.
Can't argue with that. As I said, Obama has clearly been captured by the plutocrats; it would take an insurgent outsider to try powerful stimulus. I also loved this footnote:
In Japan, Germany, and France, more than 50% of the total population is over 40 years old. (56.5%, 57.2%, and 50.2% respectively.) They do have children in these countries, so there are many more retirees and working-age people over 40 than there are younger workers. In the US, “only” 45.5% of the population is over 40, but I think as a polity, the United States behaves as though it is substantially older, because its unusual fecundity (for a developed economy) comes from relatively poor and disenfranchised immigrants. By comparison, China’s over-40 share is 40.3%, Brazil’s is 32.8%, and India’s is 27.1%. In the 1970s, when the US policy was, um, plainly inflationary, the over-40 share of the population was 36.1%.
One wonders what the policy balance would look like if we had mandatory voting, given younger voters' notorious apathy, or when the bulge of baby boomers have died off.

Anyways, I don't know if Steve would even want a Times column--I imagine writing under their constraints might be more obnoxious than it's worth--but he's for my money the most consistently interesting and broad-minded econ writer out there. Check him out.

PS: I should also mention that the man himself (at least online) is extraordinarily generous and kind-spirited. He somehow started reading my stuff and linking to the best of it on occasion, which has been enormously satisfying and helpful. There are far too few established writers actively on the lookout for new voices; most people just interact with those who are already big.

He also makes a consistent effort to find common ground among competing ideological camps, something which, while not to be tried when facing fanatics like Eric Cantor, is still worthwhile in the policy arena. Too often in the blogosphere writers get in ad hominem slugfests with people who are basically on their side. Slugfests are not always bad--people like Jonah Goldberg really are fools--but Steve has a good impulse towards generosity and gentleness.

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