Sea Ice Area, Cryosphere Today, 1979-2000 in gray [click to enlarge]
It looks increasingly likely that we’ll match or beat the 2007 record for Arctic sea ice area. That means we should easily set the record for volume, since the ice is considerably thinner than 4 years ago. The death spiral continues.
Whether we will set the record for sea ice extent, which tends to get most of the media coverage, is a tougher call. Extent and area are diverging more than usual, as I’ll discuss below. But either way, the next few weeks should be pretty fascinating to watch.
Eric writes “The Megyn Kelly bit was hilarious, but I disagree with you about the value of maternity leave. Maternity leave subsidizes raising children, which is unfair because not everyone wants to have kids and is also bad for the planet because we don’t need more people here. Not having a child is arguably the single best thing a person can do for the environment, and couples who can’t or don’t want to have kids already face social stigma. I’m not saying it wouldn’t suck to have a kid and have to keep working, but why should society further encourage more babies?”
I think it’s a mistake to view raising children as a form of private consumption. It’s a form of socially necessary labor that’s traditionally been undertaken by women on coercive terms for sub-market wages. But there’s a reason why every country I’m aware of publicly subsidizes schools and it’s part and parcel with the idea that in general parents should be supported. It’s especially mistaken, I think, to try to look at children as a negative environmental externality. The beginning of wisdom here is to note that pollution isn’t “bad for the planet.” The planet is a gigantic roughly spherical chunk of rocks that can easily survive whatever level of greenhouse gas emissions or whatever else we care to pump into the atmosphere. The big picture ecological threat is a threat to human beings, and to the continued existence of ecological conditions that are conducive to human flourishing. Radical population reduction would sharply reduce the quantity of anthropogenic ecological impacts, but to what end? The goal needs to be to reconfigure human activity in order to make it sustainable over a longer time horizon. But sustained human flourishing requires both acceptable levels of ecological impact and also the continued production of new human beings.
Now of course the specific conclusion as regards maternity leave is open to empirical revision. If I thought the birthrate would jump to nine babies per woman in the face of taxpayer financed universal paid maternity leave, I’d reverse my view on the matter. But that seems unlikely. Actual patterns of childbearing indicate that women in control of their economic and reproductive lives (correctly) regard having and raising children to be an extremely costly undertaking on which they’re reluctant to embark.
Binyamin Applebaum and Helen Cooper summarize the state of thinking about economic policy inside the administration:
Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. [...] Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, say public anger over the debt ceiling debate has weakened Republicans and created an opening for bigger ideas [...] Pfeiffer, the White House director of communications, said that there was no internal debate [...] Obama and his aides are skeptical that voters will reward bold proposals if those ideas do not pass Congress. It is their judgment that moderate voters want tangible results rather than speeches. [...] wide range of economists say the administration should call for a new round of stimulus spending [...] A series of departures has left few economists among Mr. Obama’s senior advisers [...] Mr. Plouffe and Mr. Daley share the view that a focus on deficit reduction is an economic and political imperative [...] As part of this appeal to centrist voters, the president intends to continue his push for a so-called grand bargain on deficit reduction [...] Administration officials say that their focus is on a number of smaller programs that could benefit the economy.
I see this debate as reflecting the pathologies of collective decision-making process. What you really have is one group of people, mostly economists, who think the economy needs a big new stimulus. Then you have a second group of people, mostly professional political operatives, who think that picking a public fight with congressional Republicans about a big new stimulus package would be a political loser. These are both sensible views, in my opinion. But Group I can try to strengthen its hand by arguing that the political strategists are wrong on political strategy. And Group II can try to strengthen its hand by arguing that the economists are wrong on economic policy. That sounds like a recipe for confusion to me.
The important thing to remember is that if you have an idea that can be implemented and that works, it doesn’t matter whether the initial public response to it is good or not. A President governing during a labor market recession and faced with a hostile congress needs his economists to huddle with some lawyers to devise the best possible unilateral courses of action. They shouldn’t be fighting with political strategists about the alleged desirability of having a big picture public argument about macroeconomic stabilization policy. The truth is that what Obama says will matter much less than what he does. And anything he does will either have to be things he doesn’t need congressional approval for, or else will be things that aren’t that big a deal. .
The lawyer’s response to people complaining about the thicket of software patents is that the system isn’t really that bad. A sloppy or ill-advised patent won’t ultimately hold up in court, and people who are doing nothing wrong can defend themselves in these suits. The software developer’s response to that is well phrased by Marco Arment:
It’s only “easier to defend a patent lawsuit” if you have infinite money to give lawyers, infinite time to deal with it, and an infinite tolerance for stress and uncertainty in the process. Most companies either don’t have the resources or conclude that it’s not cost-effective to reach the point of being able to reasonably argue about a patent suit’s validity, so in practice, targets threatened by patent litigation rarely have the chance to defend themselves.
One of the really great things about software is that, in principle, the capital costs of software development are quite low. Computers are cheap, and it’s perfectly possible for a single person to write a useful program. Barriers to entry are low, small firms can make meaningful contributions, and production of popular products can scale up very easily. Telling everyone they have to lawyer up to go into business wrecks all that.
Right now, 14 million unemployed Americans are struggling to make ends meet. 44.4 percent of these Americans have been struggling without a job for six months or more. While Republican lawmakers continually put off their “jobs” agenda, many of these Americans receive much needed financial support from the federal unemployment benefits program. These benefits, unfortunately, will expire at the end of 2011.
GOP presidential frontrunner Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has been touting a “jobs” candidacy and emphatically insists that she could spur some economic recovery within the first three months of her presidency, if “not the whole turnaround.” Her powerhouse plan? Fire Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, repeal “Obamacare,” and cut taxes for the wealthy. Indeed, today on NBC’s Meet The Press, Bachmann reiterated that, to ensure “job creation,” Congress needs to cut the coporate tax rate from 34 percent to “something that is far more competitive.” But when asked whether extending the much-needed jobless benefits is part of her jobs agenda, Bachmann flatly rejected the idea. “Frankly we don’t have the money,” she said:
BACHMANN: I think we need to focus on more than anything is, what will lead to job creation. And what will lead to job creation is taking the United States down from about the top corporate tax rate in the world at 34 percent down to something that is far more competitive.
GREGORY: What about extending jobless benefits for people who are out of work. Do you think that’s a necessary step?
BACHMANN: I think it would be very difficult for us to do because we frankly don’t have the money. That’s the bottom line in the United States. We are now, according to Mark Stein, he wrote a book called “After America,” and in his book he says we are the brokest [SIC] nation history. He said we have gone from the biggest creditor nation to the biggest debtor nation in a very short period of time.
GREGORY: So no on extending jobless benefits.
BACHMANN: Right now I don’t think we can afford it.
Former senator and current banker Phil Gramm of Texas — well-connected to big donors but controversial for his role in preventing tighter regulation of Wall Street — told The Huffington Post yesterday that he is endorsing his former student and political protege, Texas Gov. Rick Perry...”I’m for Rick and I will do what I can to help,” Gramm said in an interview in Detroit. “He has been an effective governor. He is a determined guy from a small town who knows how to get things done.”
In 2008, Gramm, who was advising Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign (and was floated as McCain’s choice for Treasury Secretary) gained notoriety for saying that the country was “a nation of whiners” that was only in a “mental recession.”
But Gramm’s legacy goes much deeper than that. In 2001, he tucked the Commodity Futures Modernization Act into an unrelated, 11,000 page appropriations bill. That act ensured that the huge market in over-the-counter derivatives stayed unregulated, laying the groundwork for the 2008 financial crisis (and the implosions of AIG and Lehman Brothers). He also believes there should be no minimum wage and has derided the working poor by saying, “we’re the only nation in the world where all our poor people are fat.”
Perry was a student of Gramm’s at Texas A&M, and when Perry became governor “Gramm and his bank pushed a controversial proposal to allow the company to take out insurance polices on teachers and other workers, even though the workers themselves would not benefit.” If Gramm’s support is any indication, Perry’s zeal for financial deregulation will know no bounds.
Christina Romer makes a number of fascinating points about lessons for today from World War II, but the one I hadn’t heard before has to do with the point that skill-mismatch, even if real, is a surmountable problem:
What of the idea that monetary and fiscal policy can do little if unemployment is caused by structural factors, like a mismatch between workers’ skills and available jobs? As I discussed in a previous column, such factors are probably small today.
But World War II has something to tell us here, too. Because nearly 10 million men of prime working age were drafted into the military, there was a huge skills gap between the jobs that needed to be done on the home front and the remaining work force. Yet businesses and workers found a way to get the job done. Factories simplified production methods and housewives learned to rivet.
It’s an interesting point. One relevant issue here is that the nature of total war is that “eh, let’s not increase short-term output” just wasn’t an option. Even if overall output is well below potential, measures to substantially boost demand are likely to lead to some specific shortages if you’re talking about a large country. That means higher prices, at least temporarily. One possible response to that is to say “omg inflation” and act to reduce overall output. Another response is to say we’re going to tough it out a bit and firms will adapt. Rosie will become a riveter. Navigating between those poles adequately is a judgment call for policymakers. If there’s a strong national consensus around the need to fight and win a war against Adolf Hitler, that should produce a consensus on erring toward higher output. But absent that kind of consensus the debate is bound to become contentious.
This morning on CNN, contender for the GOP nomination and Iowa straw poll winner Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) told host Candy Crowley that DADT “has worked very well,” and if she were president she would “probably” reinstate it.
CROWLEY: If you became president, would you reinstitute the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military, which said that gays could not serve openly in the military.
BACHMANN: The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy has worked very well. And I think…
CROWLEY: Would you reinstitute it then? Because it’s been set aside.
BACHMANN: It worked very well. And I would be in consultation with our commanders. But I think yes, I probably would.
Exactly how Bachmann defines “worked” remains unclear. Since its establishment in 1993, the DADT policy has resulted in the direct ouster of nearly 14,000 military service members. According to a 2007 study by the Williams Institute, the military’s retainment rates have also been harmed by the policy, with approximately 4,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual personnel leaving the military per year, who “would have been retained if they could have been more open about their sexual orientation.” Finally, at least 58 Arabic linguists have been expunged from the military due to DADT policy — a serious loss in an era in which Middle Eastern terrorism is a significant international threat.
And that is just the practical damage DADT has done to America’s military. All this doesn’t even begin to tally up the moral cost of relegating our fellow citizens to second-class status by forbidding them — based on nothing more than their sexual orientation — from serving their country.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) — who last won the Ames, Iowa Republican presidential primary straw poll — has been trying to spin S&P’s downgrade of U.S. credit as something other than a “blast at Republicans.” Though S&P cited GOP intransigence on taxes, the use of the debt ceiling as a political football, and the very existence of “default deniers” (of which Bachmann is one) as reasons for the downgrade, Bachmann has claimed that S&P “essentially proved me right.”
Today, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked Bachmann what government spending she would have cut if her plan to simply not raise the debt ceiling were adopted. (Failing to raise the debt ceiling would have forced the government to cut 40 percent of its spending overnight.) Bachmann refused to answer, instead laying out the things she wouldn’t have cut, including military spending and Social Security:
TAPPER: Rick Santorum, who came in fourth in the straw poll, called your position on just refusing to raise the debt ceiling, he said it was just irresponsible and outrageous, since immediately the government would have to cut 40 percent of the government. What cuts would you make?
BACHMANN: Well, it’s not outrageous at all. What’s outrageous is turning us into the biggest debtor in the history of the world. No nation has ever been in debt to the level that we are, and it wasn;t that long ago that we were the world’s largest creditor. We have to get our house in order. This year alone, we brought in $2.2 trillion in revenue from all the taxes we pay, and then we spent not only every penny of that, but we spent $1.5 trillion more.
TAPPER: Right, so what would you cut? What would you cut?
BACHMANN: Well, immediately what need to do is recognize that we will tell the markets that we will pay the interest on the debt, don’t worry about default. Number two, we will pay our military, and anyone who’s currently on Social Security, you get paid. But beyond that, I would bring all members of Congress together — and this isn’t some project for ten years, fifteen years down the road — and we’re going to reform entitlements.
A 40 percent cut in government spending that exempts the military and Social Security would mean cutting all other programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, and education spending, by nearly 90 percent. Even then, depending on the amount of revenue that would be coming in on a given day, Social Security may not be safe. A report from the Bipartisan Policy Center showed that, if the debt ceiling had been breached on August 2, the government would not have enough revenue on August 3 to cover all of the Social Security checks that were due.
Bachmann has been desperately trying to spin her way out of the debt ceiling debacle’s aftermath, since S&P has unambiguously said that the slew of ideas the GOP put forward during that debate would have made U.S. creditworthiness worse. As S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji noted about the country’s default deniers, “that a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable. This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.”