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Index to Krugman posts

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Saturday, June 08, 2002

Rand Simberg has a caption contest with a great photo of Dick Cheney riding a Segway! There may be hope for the republic ...
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P. Krugman
#17. The Squad finds him GREEN WITH EVIL

So now Paul Krugman has moved into the natural sciences and become an expert on global warming. In "Evils of Access" (06/07/02) he states that CO2 emissions are a greater threat to western civilization than Osama bin Laden. Why? Because President Bush will not stand up to the big corporate CO2 emitters who bought "access" by financing his campaign. If this sounds familiar, it should. The "axis of evil" between corporate America and the bought-off Bush Administration aimed at screwing the rest of us is a standard Krugman formula through which he spews his partisan venom on many issues.

Our response is pretty straightforward. It's time for Krugman to either put up or shut up on some of these recycled "formula columns". In this case, "put up" would require him to make the economic case in favor of the U.S. signing the Kyoto Protocol. That case would have to address the COSTS of rolling back CO2 emissions to 1990 levels versus the BENEFITS of delaying (according to most climate models) the projected temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius to 2100 instead of 2094.

Not to worry! He'll never do it, because he can't. No one can. Kyoto is nonsense. Which is why the U.S. Senate voted it down 99 to 0 a couple of years ago. Where were the "evils of access" then?

And by the way, the Senate's reasoning was that Kyoto would do more harm to the U.S. economy (corporations, employees and shareholders) than any likely benefits from slowing global warming. This is pretty much Bush's stated view now. We would add that the degree, timing and even the existence of the global warming phenomena are still far from certain.

So that leaves "shut up." Alas, he's not likely to do that either.

We expect a steady stream of cheap shots from now to the election and will we continue to reject, deflect or refute as many as possible.

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Friday, June 07, 2002

A strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of
the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest.
The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country
when in danger, are of higher obligation.
--Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, June 06, 2002

Stretcher-bearers in the ruins of Vaux


Today is the beginning of the Battle of BELLEAU WOOD.

Belleau Wood, like most First World War battles, is a bloodbath; flinging men against fortified positions, with fearful losses and trivial gains.

It is also our first real attack in the war. Americans have been fighting hard in various defensive battles, but now we are attacking and taking ground. This is our first big role in the play, and the world is watching.

Belleau Wood is a half square-mile patch of tangled jungle, with a hunting lodge. Worthless. The operation is poorly prepared, both by the Americans and by the French corps they are a part of. It is mistakenly thought that the Wood is almost empty, and can be seized in a hasty assault. The attack is made by the 4th Marine Brigade. It is half of 2d Div. which was the odd combination of one Marine and one Army brigade. (The commander of the 4th is Army Gen. James Harbord, who we met in #7, and who will later command the Services of Supply.)

On June 6th, 1918, the 4th Brigade loses 1,087 officers and men, 222 of them killed. They actually only manage to capture the edge of the wood. The press mistakenly announces a splendid victory. This gives a great boost to French and American morale. It also means that the Wood has to be actually taken, no matter the cost. In fact the battle for Belleau Wood and the adjacent town of Vaux only ends on July 1. It costs 2d Division 9,000 casualties out of a total infantry strength of 17,000.

There are no practical gains, but the moral effect is profound. Americans will never seem the same, to themselves, or the world. And perhaps that little bloodstained thicket has saved more lives than it cost. Despite what Mr Chomsky would like you to believe, American has mostly been a force for peace and stability. And we have influence, partly, because it is known that, in the final necessity, we will fight and win no matter the cost.
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Because I recently used the term Bononomics, I'm now getting a lot of hits from a U2 news site in Guatamala!

Nuevo término "Bononómico" (Bononomics) : mezcla de independencia y ayuda global. Otro ejemplo
I grew up reading science fiction, and now my life is at least as odd as anything I read back then. And if I mentioned this peculiar happening to my children, they would probably shrug and say, So...Is there something important about that?? Perhaps, in my own youth, I similarly failed to react when some old-timer marveled at flying across the country...

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

Megan, with her customary clarity, gives us a raft of interesting reasons why we'd be better off economically without the Estate Tax.

...But people like this -- people who have built up wealth through their own efforts -- have valuable skills and experience that create wealth for society. Their early retirement is, for us, a big loss, especially right at their peak years of experience. So how do we prevent it?

By allowing them to pass on any wealth they accumulate in excess of their consumption needs to their children, since most people are willing to exert a tremendous amount of effort to improve their children's lives. In this sense, the dimwitted children of the wealthy are actually doing the rest of us a favor, by making it utterly necessary for their clever parents to work as long as possible to make sure that they are taken care of...

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For a few facts, try:
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Tuesday, June 04, 2002

When that Tribe of Invisible Indians, the Krugman Squad says that the economy is too strong for the comfort of a certain partisan Democrat economist, this from WaPo is what they are talking about (thanks to Frank Vannerson):

Economic Production Best in 19 Years
By Jeannine Aversa
Associated Press

WASHINGTON –– A crucial ingredient in the economy's long-term vitality, productivity, turned in its best performance in almost two decades during the first quarter of the year as hard-pressed companies produced more with fewer workers.

Productivity – the amount of output per hour of work – soared at an annual rate of 8.4 percent in the January-March quarter, after a strong 5.5 percent growth rate in the previous quarter, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The latest figures show that last year's recession didn't derail healthy productivity gains seen in the late 1990s and bodes well for keeping the nation's economic recovery on solid footing, economists said...

...The impressive productivity gain came at a price. Businesses, responding to the lingering effects of last year's recession, cut back on their payrolls in the first quarter. That caused the total number of hours worked to fall at a rate of 2.1 percent. Output rose at 6.1 percent.

"As far as downsides go, this is roughly the equivalent of eating your broccoli. It may be tough to stomach at first, but it makes you stronger and healthier in the long run," said Mark Vitner, economist at Wachovia Securities.In the long run, productivity gains are good for workers, for the economy and for companies, whose profits took a hit during the slump. Gains in productivity allow companies to pay workers more without raising prices, which would eat up those wage gains. Productivity gains also permit the economy to grow faster without triggering price inflation...

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P. Krugman
#16 Kruggie goes Hollywood, and longs for the 70's

We are becoming accustomed to Paul Krugman's use of straw men to make many of his more specious points. Usually he cobbles them together out of misquotes, innuendos and guilt by association. But in "Greed is Bad" (06/04/02) he goes Hollywood on us and uses the corporate raider, Gordon Gekko, the fictional character in the 1985 movie, Wall Street, to provide some lines to punch from a script written by none other than Oliver Stone. We're wondering who might be next on Krugman's list of straw men–Daddy Warbucks, maybe, from the musical Annie?

But getting back to the column, it actually reveals some interesting facets of how Krugman views the world. It turns out his favorite decade is the 1970s when corporate America was like a collection of public utilities, run by modestly paid executives and with broader priorities than just the bottom line, e.g., the welfare of its workers. He notes approvingly that General Motors in those days was known a Generous Motors. We suspect Walter Reuther would have disagreed, but let's not tamper with the man's fantasy.

The main problems with American capitalism and its corporations in the 1970s were that they had become the laughing stocks of the world, were getting their butts kicked by foreign companies from the Far East to Europe and, most important, factor productivity growth in the U.S. went over a cliff. It fell from an annual growth rate of about 2.5% in the 50s and 60s to not much more than 1% in the 70s. Krugman asks with regard to the present day "Who will save the malfunctioning corporation." Well, we ask, "Who saved it in the 1970s." The answer, of course, in both cases was (and is) the private sector.

In the 1970s shareholders got fed up with under achieving management and replaced them with more aggressive people who had a piece of the action. Krugman would like to leave the impression that these changes were purely cosmetic directed at artificially boosting stock prices, but anyone who has been awake since the early 1980s can tell it has been an unprecedented stretch of prosperity. Moreover, the preeminence of U.S. capitalism was reestablished. Today privately sponsored accounting and due diligence overhauls are already underway to meet shareholder demands for correction of recent abuses.

But let's cut to the chase. What's really bugging Krugman is not that greed is destroying the economy, but that the economy is performing too well currently to suit his partisan interests. The Democrats' playbook calls for a steep recession about now–one that can be blamed on the Bush administration, used to recapture congress and lead to a one-term presidency. Instead, the recession is over, it was mild and short, and the recovery, while modest to date, is well under way. More important, as we have been preaching lately, factor productivity is surprising almost all economists with its continued strong growth.

The principal credit for all this goes to the American form of rough and tumble capitalism that makes Krugman become so derisive. He prefers to train his microscope on the warts for partisan purposes, but we prefer to look at the big picture.

One illustration will suffice. The U.S. is the only country in the world that would let corporations of the size and with the political connections of Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, et. al., go under without a government bailout of some sort. The Japanese and other Asian countries would not have. Nor would Europe. Only the U.S. just lets them die, then lets the vultures pick the carcasses and then moves on. That truly is, in Secretary O'Neill's words, "the genius of American capitalism." By contrast Japan is mired in a twelve-year recession precisely because it cannot bite the bullet when faced with similar sorts of problems, in particular with the massive non-performing bank debt that is choking the Japanese economy. We would like to see Krugman tackle these questions sometime, but we are not holding our breath.

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I was reading Woodshop News, with pleasure because they just published a little design of mine. (If you need an adjustable work-table for your shop, I can e-mail you the plan)

Pleasure was diminished when I saw: Canada hit with 29% lumber tariff. There is a lot of controversy on this issue, with charges and counter-charges bouncing off the walls:

Canada: Protectionist madness

US lumber industry: They're subsidizing, and dumping.

US Homebuilders: Punitive tariffs will drive up cost of housing.

US lumber industry: Price of lumber now absurdly low, will merely return to normal.

Canada: 16.500 jobs already lost in British Columbia ... this will hurt US producers too, making them even less competitive...
I can't say who is right, but higher tariffs sure isn't what the world needs right now.

Monday, June 03, 2002

I've mentioned this before, but today's Best of the Web put me in mind of it. When you read about Saudi support for Palestinians, you might want to also recall that, although they have millions of guest workers in Arabia, they allow almost no Palestinians in. Reportedly the Saudis consider them "troublemakers."

*UPDATE: On a whim I e-mailed Best of the Web and told them they ought to mention this. James Taranto immediately responded that he had, last February, here.

In fact, I was sending him his own words, whose origin I had forgotten! Kind of embarassing. But he will no doubt be pleased to know his thoughts are seeping into the depths of the world-mind.

Sunday, June 02, 2002

The creation is never over.
It had a beginning but it has no ending.
Creation is always busy making new scenes,
new things, and new worlds.

--Emmanuel Kant
A General Natural History of the Heavens
If you want to get a feel for what evolutionary science is doing now, I highly recommend THE BEAK OF THE FINCH, by Jonathan Weiner. It's the best sort of science writing -- Accessable to the intelligent layman, without scanting the details. Fun for the armchair traveller too.

Peter and Rosemary Grant, of Princeton, and their various colleagues and students have spent decades studying the finches on one tiny and almost inaccessable island, Daphne Major, in the Galapagos. Every finch on the island (usually around 1000) is known and numbered. (The birds are absurdly tame and often alight on the scientist's hands and drink from their cups.) Each has been weighed and measured. Especially important are the dimensions of the beaks, which can be measured to fractions of a millimeter. The family trees are also known. Variations in the birds are also observed at the molecular level, with DNA samples revealing evolutionary change.

What is being studied is selection. Biologists have always inferred the action of selection, but is only recently that ways have been found to study it in action. The Daphne Major study is probably the most important of them.

One of the puzzling things about the Galapagos ground finches has been that, though the different species and subspecies have a variety of sizes of beaks, they all seem to eat the same seeds. Were the sizes of the beaks meaningless? The answer was found when a severe drought struck the island-- no rain for a year on an already parched little rock. The finch populatio plunged to about 200. The ones that survived had either the largest beaks, which could crack certain seeds that were usually scorned. Or the smallest birds, who could survive on some tiny seeds. (And the Grants aren't just guessing, they can watch and count the success-rate for a precisely-measured beak trying to crack one type of seed.) As the Grants watched, the birds split into two populations, with each size only mating with similar birds. Over time this might have culminated in a division into two seperate species. But the drought was followed by an unusually wet period which applied a different set of selection pressures.
...The small, medium, and large ground finches ... are extraordinarily responsive to changes in the weather of the islands. If Niños were to begin to come harder and faster in the next century, then it would take only about two hundred years for the finches to fuse together and undo all the evolutionary work that has carved them apart.

On the other hand, it might not take Darwin's process very long to separate the birds again: to turn a group of fuliginosa into a fortis, or a fortis into a magnirostris. Trevor Price has calculated that it would take about twenty selection events as intense as the drought of 1977 to turn a fortis into a magnirostris. And if the starting point were not Daphne but one of the islands where fortis is larger, then the change would take only a dozen droughts. "Trevor worked out that in a relatively small time you could get from A to B," says Peter Grant. "I hadn't, when we started this work, even thought that would be possible."

In other words, in the present climate of the Galapagos, it would take only a thousand years of not unlikely weather to create a new species of Darwin's finches on the islands. And if the climate were to change and inflict a series of grim droughts or floods at just the right intervals, without missing a beat, it could create a new species in a single century...

I couldn't resist purloining Dave Trowbridge's joke:

The debate about cloning has overlooked some interesting possibilities. When genetic engineering becomes part of the high-school curriculum, some lucky teacher will be the first to hear:

"I'm sorry, teacher, but the homework ate my dog."