Fighting debt problems by encouraging debt

The usually liberal Fareed Zakaria on the incoherence of the government’s attempts to fix the economy:

Washington is asking consumers to stop saving and start spending, while the government issues more debt and the Fed lowers rates – all measures designed to increase debt. In other words, we are fighting a crisis caused by excessive debt by encouraging excessive debt. Is that really the best way to get growth?

The investment manager and guru Jeremy Grantham says no. In his latest quarterly letter, he points out that over the last generation, American government has created conditions that encouraged everyone to keep accumulating debt. But far from getting a bang, the country’s growth rate actually slowed down over that period. In fact, the effect of all this government-subsidized debt has been deeply destructive. It created asset bubbles in stocks, bonds, commodities and more. One stunning chart in his letter underscores the extent to which the Fed created what he calls “the first housing bubble in history,” meaning the first time that U.S. house prices rose dramatically across the board – and are now falling just as dramatically.

Debt-fueled growth “is, in an important sense, not the real world,” Grantham writes. “In the real world, growth depends on real factors: the quality and quantity of education, work ethic, population profile, the quality and quantity of existing plant and equipment, business organization, the quality of public leadership (especially from the Fed in the U.S.), and the quality (not quantity) of existing regulations and the degree of enforcement.”

This strikes me as the common-sense view of economics. We can push and pull fiscal and monetary policy all we want, but long-term growth depends on these broader and deeper factors.

via Fareed Zakaria – Economic policy needs common sense, not Fed magic, for long-term growth.

Atheists seeking market share

Get ready for a bunch of ads promoting atheism, funded by at least four different sects of atheists, each seeking market share.  From the New York Times:

Just in time for the holiday season, Americans are about to be hit with a spate of advertisements promoting the joy and wisdom of atheism.

Four separate and competing national organizations representing various streams of atheists, humanists and freethinkers will soon be spreading their gospel through advertisements on billboards, buses and trains, and in newspapers and magazines.

The latest, announced on Tuesday in Washington, is the first to include spots on television and cable. This campaign juxtaposes particularly primitive — even barbaric — passages from the Bible and the Koran with quotations from nonbelievers and humanists like Albert Einstein and Katharine Hepburn.

The godless groups say they are mounting this surge because they are aware that they have a large, untapped army of potential troops. The percentage of American adults who say they have no religion has doubled in the last two decades, to 15 percent, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford and released in 2008. But the ranks of the various atheist organizations number only in the tens of thousands.

That is one reason for the multiple campaigns: the groups are competing with one another to gain market share, said Mark Silk, founding director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, which is also at Trinity College.

“There’s a competitive environment for ‘no religion,’ and they’re grabbing for all the constituents they can get,” Mr. Silk said. . . .

Several of the campaigns are pitched not just to nonbelievers, but also to liberal believers who might be alarmed about breaches in the wall of separation between church and state. The atheist groups believe that people who are religious and politically liberal have more in common with atheists and seculars than they do with religious conservatives.

“We must denounce politicians that contend U.S. law should be based on the Bible and the Ten Commandments,” said Todd Stiefel, a retired pharmaceutical company executive who is underwriting most of the ad campaign that cites alarming Scripture passages. “It has not been based on these and should never be. Our founding fathers created a secular democracy.”

The most expensive campaign is staged by the American Humanist Association. Mr. Stiefel’s foundation donated $150,000 — three-quarters of the cost, part of which goes for television and cable advertisements. That campaign plucks out bracing Scripture passages about women, homosexuality or the wrath of God, like this one from the Old Testament:

“The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (from Hosea 13:16, New International Version).

This is contrasted with a quote from Albert Einstein saying that he “cannot imagine” such a God.

The campaigns range from friendly to confrontational. On the confrontational end of the spectrum, American Atheists, which was founded in 1963 by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, will just before Thanksgiving put a billboard on the busy approach to the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey heading into New York.

It features a Nativity scene, and the words: “You Know it’s a Myth. This Season Celebrate Reason.”

David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, said that the idea of the campaign is to reach people who might go to church but are just going through the motions. “We’re going after that market share,” he said.

The United Coalition of Reason, a group in Washington, is sponsoring billboards and ads on bus shelters in about 15 cities that say, “Don’t Believe In God? Join the Club.”

The ads by the Freedom From Religion Foundation take a more inviting approach, with big portraits of some famous and some workaday people, listing their hobbies and professions and giving a punchy, personal declaration of independence from religion. The group, which has been running advertisements on and off since 2007, has spent about $55,000 this year to put up 150 billboards in about a dozen cities.

via Atheists’ Holiday Message – Join Us – NYTimes.com.

Another conversation with my brother

In case you missed it on the George Bush & Aids post, my brother and I had another exchange, in the course of which I formulate what I consider a truly conservative economic ideology:

He says: OK. I (“Dr. Veith’s” younger brother who is still and always will be a Democrat) hereby give George Bush credit for saving millions of lives as a result of his AIDS initiative. Hey, that felt kind of good!

Now for you conservatives, isn’t it about time to give President Obama credit for the bailout of General Motors?

I say: Jimmy (my brother) @3: Thank you for that concession. That was all I wanted. But what you want from conservatives shows that liberals do not understand the many different ideologies that they lump together under that label. Most people on this blog, I daresay, are suspicious of BOTH big government AND big business.

We do believe in free markets. To return to your earlier illustration, if doctors and pharmaceutical companies and everyone else in the health care professions could not make a lot of money from their work, we soon would be back to what you decried in the primitive health care endured by Adam Smith back in 1776.

However, the really big companies hate free markets. They don’t want competition that brings prices down and increases supply. This is the lesson of Monopoly, at which I beat you so many times, the object of which is not prosperity and abundance for everybody, but one person putting everybody else out of business and getting–with the state-run socialist bank–ALL of everyone’s money.

And even worse for us crunchy-conservatives or front-porch conservatives or social conservatives or whatever you want to call us than big government and big business is when both of those behemoths combine together into something that so gargantuan that it crowds out everybody! This is why we don’t like Obama’s bailout of the big banks and his merger with General Motors. This is also why we don’t like Obama’s health care system, which is a marriage of big government with the big insurance companies.

Then he says:

To my big brother,”Dr. Veith”. Thanks for reminding me how often you beat me at Monopoly.

I agree with much of what you said in your comments at #26. I agree that the individual can be harmed by both BIG government and BIG business. My question for you is how can we check the powers of BIG business?

Historically, it has been done in two ways, with unions and government. With the decline of unions, government is the principal way we can check the powers of big business. When conservatives reject any government role in a “free market system” as a mater of ideology, they are left with nothing to check the powers of big business.

I don’t think that a corporation should be allowed to make money any way it pleases. Corporations are fictional “persons” created under the law. Corporations exist to serve the people, we do not exist to serve the corporation. It is perfectly appropriate that the government that created corporations can and should regulate its activites. For example, the government should prohibit companies from selling dangerous products to the public, and should protect the safety of the company employees. I acknowledge that rules and regulations imposed by government on business can be too burdensome and heavy handed. So the rules and regulations imposed by government should be smart and pragmatic. But I think it is insane to reject the role of government in a modern free market economy on purely ideological grounds.

This is why I support Obama’s health care, because I think it is perfectly appropriate for government to prohibit insurance companies from denying people coverage for a pre-existing condition. Allowing insurance companies to only insure healthy people is a business model that does not benefit the public and is not sustainable in the long run.

Now I don’t want to start another debate on the wisdom or lack of wisdom of Obama’s health care. Time will tell. My point is that we should not reject the power of government to regulate the health care insurance industry as a matter of principal.

Does this make me a soci@list? I don’t think so.

I repost these exchanges because my brother is actually very perceptive, liberal though he is, and because they demonstrate the lesson I have been trying to impose on you all, that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable, to remain one big happy family through it all, and that it is possible to use discussions consisting of different opinions to come to actual insights.

Anyway, who is with me in this suspicion of big government and big business and, especially, their marriage with their hideous spawn?

And can anyone answer Jimmy?  What can limit both big government and big business?

The bloodiest war since WWII

If Ben Affleck is right, a slaughter that approached Holocaust proportions happened, but hardly any of us noticed:

Ask many Americans to name the bloodiest war since World War II and chances are that most would not know the answer. If you told them it was in Africa, they might guess Rwanda or the ongoing conflict in Sudan. They’d be wrong.

By far, the deadliest conflict was in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1998 to 2003. Eight African nations participated in the fighting on Congolese soil, many hoping to seize control of its vast mineral wealth. Some 4 million Congolese died during the conflict and nearly another 1 million have died in the lawless aftermath from starvation, conflict and preventable disease. Tens of thousands of children were forced to become soldiers, and as many as two out of three women were victimized by rape and other forms of sexual violence.

This is still happening today.

via Ben Affleck – Ben Affleck: How the United States can help secure Congo.

George Bush & AIDS

Bush haters, will you at least give him credit for saving some 5 million lives in Africa, due to the AIDS initiative that he was responsible for?  Bono, at least, does.

In the past 10 years, HIV infections have dropped by 20 percent. Medical experts say the combination of new treatments and a greater focus on prevention has been a success story.

But, according to specialists in the field and AIDS activists alike, in sub-Saharan Africa — where efforts on raising awareness and relief is credited with saving 5 million lives — the game changer has come as a direct result of massive U.S. funding that began in 2003.

While support for the funding has been bipartisan, U2′s lead singer and world-renowned humanitarian Bono credits former President George W. Bush with leading the charge on the issue.

“Even people who are snide and snarky about the United States of America

have to admit that millions and millions of lives have been saved by American taxpayers,” Bono told Fox News’ Bret Baier during an interview with the lead singer and the former president taped at Bush’s Dallas, Texas, office.

via FoxNews.com – U.S. AIDS Funding Program Started Under Bush Credited With Saving Millions.

A typo with the force of law

A Virginia man sped by a stopped school bus, violating this law:

“A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children.”

Read it carefully.  “Who fails to stop”a school bus?”  The law was supposed to read “who fails to stop at” a school bus.  The word “at” was inadvertently left out when the statute was published.

The man, who was pulled over by the police, took his case to court.  The judge admitted that the law, as written, does not forbid what he did, so he found the defendant “not guilty.”

The statute cannot be repaired until the state legislature comes back into session in January.  Until then, I guess, we Virginians can pass school buses unloading kids.   But we will also be guilty of reckless driving unless we stop buses that are stopped.  I’m not sure how to do that.

But this is another lesson that, as an English professor, I want to drive home:  GRAMMATICAL MISTAKES MATTER!

via 2 little letters acquit man who passed stopped school bus.


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