Don’t know much about economics

Don’t know much about economics August 14, 2012

Not so long ago, Republicans used to portray themselves as sober, economic realists. They knew how the economy worked. When you actually dug down, however, it turns out this was really a big bluff – or more accurately, a decades-long “long con”. Their solutions never really boosted the productivity of the economy, but made it vastly more unstable and more unequal. To be fair, it took a long time to figure this out in its entirety.

But they still managed to talk a good talk, and – for the most part – they were not crazy. They had a basic understanding of macroeconomics and how things like monetary and fiscal policy affected growth. No longer.

Exhibit number 1: the complete intellectual dishonesty of the Romney economists – Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, John Taylor, and Kevin Hassett. The first three at least are well-respected and have well-deserved reputations (although Hubbard lost much credibility when he had to admit taking large sums of money from the financial sector on camera in the movie, Inside Job). Which makes the complete demolition of their arguments by Brad deLong all the more stunning.

Let’s face it, there is no real mystery why the economy is performing poorly today. We are five years after a major financial crisis, and all the evidence suggests that the economy takes an awfully long time to bounce back after financial crises. America is not (ahem, ahem!) exceptional in this way either! But it’s interesting to look at the numbers. Business investment has rebounded, growing at twice the pace under Obama as under Bush. So much for the famous stranglehold of regulation! Exports, which usually track investment, have also rebounded.

So what’s holding us back? A number of things. First, residential construction is still in the tank. No surprise there – and to be honest, do we really want or need another boom driven by housing? But there’s something else too. Government spending (more technically, government purchases of goods and services) is also in the doldrums. And this is where we can blame policy. Despite the bizzaro-world scenario peddled by Fox News and the right, the government sector has been holding back growth. It is a fact that the real growth of government spending is lowest under Obama than any other postwar president. It is a fact that unemployment remains so high today in part because of the huge decline in public hiring – if Obama had followed Bush in terms of expanding the number of public sector jobs, there would be an extra 1.4 million working today, enough to reduce the unemployment rate by 1 percentage point.

So we can say the following: the recovery is so lousy because we are still struggling with a financial crisis and a legacy of private debt. This is holding down private consumption. And here, it is a huge shame that there has been no action ro restructure private debt, especially housing debt, to relieve this millstone from the necks of millions of ordinary people. As we know, this has a long tradition in both Jewish and Catholic teaching. To make matters worse, the banks were bailed out, while homeowners were sent away emtpy.

Adding to our problems is the misguided belief that fiscal austerity is the path to short-term recovery. Of course, some might argue that too much government spending crowds out private spending, but you see this in rising interests rates – and interest rates have never been lower.

Back to the Romney guys. I won’t rehash all of deLong’s points, but the whole thing is worth a read. The worst is when they deliberately misinterpret the results of other economists. One finds that policy uncertainty is holding back growth. But while these guys claim “regulatory” uncertainty, he is really talking about Republicans playing chicken with the debt ceiling and other issues. This kind of dishonesty is shocking in economists of this caliber.

Exhibit number 2: Paul Ryan. It is quite stunning that this man is being portrayed by the media as “serious” on economics. I have no doubt that Ryan is “serious” in what he believes, but all seriousness stops there! Look at his plan – he basically assumes all non-entitlement non-military government spending will pretty much wither away (is he a closet Marxist?). Plus, you cannot be serious about reducing public debt when you put forward a deficit-reduction plan that increases public debt! You cannot be serious about reducing public debt if you want to increase military spending and give massive tax cuts to the upper class. It’s also highly immoral of course, as to the extent that Ryan tries to pay for his largesse, it is by cutting programs that benefit the poor, such as Medicaid. If you crunch the numbers, up to 30 million people could lose coverage under Medicaid to pay for Ryan’s tax largesse – this could come on top of the current level of uninsured, as he opposes the Affordable Care Act.

And then there’s the fact that Ryan doesn’t even understand the basics of modern macroeconomics. When somebody like Michelle Bachman speaks on economics, people snigger. And yet when Ryan speaks, people nod earnestly. Well, here’s an emperor-has-no-clothes moment: Ryan is pretty much at the same level as Bachmann! Take this gem: he is on record as saying that raising interests rates would provide stimulus to the economy in the current circumstances. That goes against everything we know about macroeconomics, and it goes directly against people like Milton Friedman who believed strongly in the power of monetary policy. Indeed, this was the essence of his original criticism of Keynes’s analysis of the Great Depression – Friedman discounted the role of fiscal stimulus and instead argued that the single biggest mistake of the Great Depression was tight monetary policy).

But there is a worldview in which Ryan makes sense – the worldview of Ayn Rand. It seems to explain his views on monetary policy, his views on the welfare state, his views on economics in general. It is important to point out that not only are Rand’s theories deeply immoral – the are also completely unhinged economically. What Scientology is to psychology, Ayn Rand is to economics!

So remember, Paul (and the modern GOP) want to take us back to a world before the New Deal, a partly imaginary world when there was no safety net, when market outcomes were virtuous, where the lazy were punished and the industrious rewarded, where inequality was lauded and not condemned, and where the role of economic policy was not to smooth economic fluctuations but to cut the rot from the system. Yes, folks we’ve seen this before. It’s been quite a while, I admit, but we’ve seen it all before. So how can Ryan say he has rejected Rand when he still embraces this entire worldview?

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  • But the vice president has very little power over the budget or the economy, so by the logic employed on President Obama and abortion, this shouldn’t be a serious consideration.

    • digbydolben

      I don’t know about you, Johnmcg, but in my lifetime the Vice President has become the President three times. Also, this choice indicates that Romney has finally stopped flip-flopping and has veered to the lunatic right of his Right-wing–and almost neo-fascist–party. It is the best indicator we have of what his domestic policies would look like, and I predict that most Americans will be horrified, eventually, by what this portends.

      • And I predict that your prediction has a very high probability of being accurate.

      • dominic1955

        Neo-Fascist? Sheesh…I wish. I for one would much rather have this brand of lunatic right wing “neo-fascism” than more of the socially degenerate watermellon Volkspartei we have now.

        • Ronald King


        • “Watermelon”?? You are a racist pig. And you spell about as well as the average skinhead dolt, btw.

        • dominic1955

          You, sir, are just a hysterical provocateur if you’ve read into my “watermelon” statement any sort of “racist” connotation. Green on the outside, red on the inside, usually in reference to environmentalists who push “green” politics as a front or with a strong underlying socialist/communist/marxist emphasis. I was using it as hyperbole, it is mere ad hominem to call your political opponent by the name of an extreme foreign ideology that falls on the corresponding “wing”.

          Also, yes I put an extra “L” in “watermelon”, an extra strike on an oft used double letter makes me the equivalent of a skinhead dolt? Like I said, hysterical. I’m sorry I gave you a case of the vapours, I hope you had your salts at hand at the time.

    • On the contrary, fiscal policy is the one thing that us directly controlled by elected officials. That and bombing people.

      • So that President Obama opposes all restrictions on the killing of unborn children in the womb is not at all telling about his character, and voters should not consider it when making their voting decisions. Since the president has little power over abortion policy, it’s irrelevant, and those who bring it up are engaging in distracting demagoguery.

        But a vice presidential candidate’s ideas about the budget should be carefully scrutinized, even though the vice president has very little power over the budget?

        Got it.

        Of course it, sounds a lot like “Ignore issues that make the Democrats look bad, but pay careful attention to issues that make the Republicans look bad.”

        Actually by the “abortion is irrelevant” logic, those who oppose the Ryan budget should support his vice presidential bid, since taking that office would require him to give up his seat in the House, where he does have formal power over the budget.

      • Can you please define the vice president’s formal role in fiscal policy, demonstrating how it is greater than the president’s role in abortion policy, which includes appointing Supreme Court jusices, appointing the HHS staff, issuing executive orders about foreign aid and HHS polcies, etc.?

        My understanding of the vice president’s formal involvement is casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.

        • Why does everything always come back to abortion with you? Since this is a post about economics, perhaps you could draw the connection (as does the Declaration on Procured Abortion) between abortion and economic conditions?

          And don’t start on the judges again. I will merely ask you this – how many evil decisions from so-called prolife judges are you willing to accept in the hope that some day they will overturn Roe? And what happens then when abortion remains state law? How do you intend to change the culture on abortion?

          And one more thing – a VP’s views on economics matter when the presidential candidate has chosen him for these views and adopted these views, and when the House majority has adopted these views, and when Senate Republicans (who could very well take over in November) have adopted these same views. Convinced yet?

        • nd one more thing – a VP’s views on economics matter when the presidential candidate has chosen him for these views and adopted these views, and when the House majority has adopted these views, and when Senate Republicans (who could very well take over in November) have adopted these same views. Convinced yet?

          So you have no answer, then, other hand-wavy stuff about how he’s in a position of influence over his party, and a party choosing him as a leader has declared his prinicples

          But on abortion, this doesn’t matter. All that matters is the formal levers of power that office-holder has access to.

          What it comes back to is that you wave off Democratic politicians’ position on abortion for reasons you would never accept in any other context. You would never accept the (yes, I admit, absurd) argument I’m advancing that Paul Ryan’s budget doesn’t matter because as vice president he will have no formal power over the budget.

          Yet, you advance this argument for President Obama and abortion, and expect pro-life people, people who sincerely think it is a problem that there is a class of persons outside the protection of the law, to accept it as well. I am trying to give you a sense of how that tastes, so perhaps you might gain a little bit of understanding and empathy for your pro-life readers when they see a Catholic writer who claims to be pro-life wave off Democratic politician’s positions on abortion with the claim that it doesn’t really matter since they don’t have direct power over abortion policy.

          And what happens then when abortion remains state law? How do you intend to change the culture on abortion?

          Hey maybe it’s best to start now in getting pro-life people in positions of leadership so they can start moving the culture in that direction and efforts to pass pro-life legislation at the state level, rather than just throw up our hands at how awful it is.

        • Mark Gordon

          Ryan was chosen precisely because he is the intellectual leader of the right wing of the Republican Party, which is to say the Republican Party. Romney had already signed on to the “Ryan budget” and this choice only solidifies that. Romney’s case is based on experience and character, not a program, and he’s been criticized roundly in two elections now for lacking a specific program. The choice of Ryan not only helps him with the right wing, but allows him to formally incorporate Ryan’s program into his own campaign. The role of the vice-president has changed a lot in the past twenty years, and many – including many who applaud this choice – see this as a further evolution in the role of the vice-presidency.

        • To clarify my position, it doesn’t bother me (well, doesn’t bother me that much) if you or someone else prioritizes a candidate’s fiscal policy over their position on abortion in making their voting decisions. As we say, this is a prudential decision, and while I have drawn my own conclusions, I cannot say with certainly that they are correct, or that yours are incorrect.

          What does bother me is the undercurrent of contempt for those who might have reached a different conclusion. That those who are horrified at abortion can be dismissed by observing that any single elected official has little formal authority over abortion policy. And that if they fail to accept that, they have revealed themselves to be partisan ideologues who probably really aren’t even pro-life, but just want to stick it to the poor.

          Vote for President Obama if that’s what you think is best. Even try to convince others to do the same. But please also make a true effort to understand why many might disagree, or even be horrified by the idea. And don’t dismiss them with arguments you would never accept on the issues that are important to you.

  • Mark VA

    I find it surreal that Vox Nova, while including Karl Marx on its banner (second row, seventh from the left), has such a case of vapours over Paul Ryan reading (and disavowing) Ayn Rand at some time in his life.

    “Catholic perspectives on culture, society, and politics”, with a little Marx thrown in every now and then? Interesting synthesis, worthy of Kafka and the Czech theatre of the absurd.

    • I will be charitable and assume you saw the beard and didn’t recognize any of the others. So let me make it clear – aside from Marx, we have JS Mill, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Ludwig Von Mises, and Adam Smith. Each if these thinkers is in opposition to Catholic social teaching in major areas, maybe even more so than Marx. I will assume you did not look closely enough and would have been equally appalled by thus cast of liberal thinkers. They are all included because they shaped and formed the economic and social world in significant ways, and must be engaged.

      • Well said. And true. All serious thought must be engaged.

      • Mark VA


        I’ve heard this before, and it still sounds unconvincing.

        Vox Nova is quick to explain itself when the presence of Karl Marx on its banner is pointed out – he is there because you must “engage” him. You must have a well nuanced understanding of the word “engage”…

        Second, Vox Nova’s energy is spent vigorously “engaging” the Right, the “engagement” with Ron Paul being the latest example. Yet, the soft cocoon of fuzzy nuance is lavished on the Left (LCWR comes to mind).

        All this, of course, is to offer “Catholic perspectives on culture, society, and politics.”

        Face it MM, this is simply a Left wing site with an eclectic banner.

        • Only in the US would we considered left wing. But the US is a bit of a political aberration, isn’t it?

        • Julia Smucker

          I wasn’t going to comment on this post, as its title is a fitting enough description of me that I don’t have much to contribute to the overarching discussion. But I have to say the idea that VN endorses the philosophies of everyone who appears on our banner is patently absurd. If you read the banner description, you will get a clear enough explanation: these are contributors to the thinking – and thus also symbolic representatives – of the church (top row) and the world (bottom row) with which and in which we are engaging. I don’t believe it was ever intended as a wholesale endorsement of all of their contributions, but simply an acknowledgement thereof, for better or for worse (and we can always debate whose contribution is which).

  • Blackadder

    I would agree that Paul Ryan’s monetary policy ideas are cringeworthy. I would also agree that the Ryan Budget, if taken not as an opening negotiating position but as a final product, would be deficient in multiple respects. On the other hand, there are a lot of good ideas in the Ryan Plan, and I think Ryan should be commended for raising issues that need to be addressed and with a level of detail and controversy that is atypical for politicians. The silly season of the election campaign will no doubt prevent this in the short term, but hopefully people will calm down a bit after November.

    As for the economists, today the Romney campaign unveiled a list of over 400 economists who support his economic program, including five nobel laureates. I would urge MM to resist any temptation he might feel to label all these people intellectually dishonest, ignoramuses, or both. If economics is infested with such knaves and fools up to the highest levels, then that should really serve to discredit the entire profession (MM included), rather than particular individuals.

    • “If economics is infested with such knaves and fools up to the highest levels, then that should really serve to discredit the entire profession (MM included), rather than particular individuals.”

      @ Blackadder:

      I think that history does a pretty good job of discrediting the entire profession. Economists have approximately the same credibility quotient as sociologists, as I see it.

    • Jordan

      Blackadder [August 14, 2012 11:38 pm]: If economics is infested with such knaves and fools up to the highest levels, then that should really serve to discredit the entire profession (MM included), rather than particular individuals.

      Blackadder’s entire post is quite true and well taken. One cannot charitably and logically conclude that politically conservative economists are dishonest or deceptive merely for affirming the Romney-Ryan (R-R) budget. Even the affiliation of a number of signatories with explicitly conservative think-tanks (i.e. American Enterprise Institute) cannot absolutely invalidate their position. However, economic liberals must create sound arguments against severe austerity which rely on sound economic models and not partisan sniping. Given the superpac-fueled extremely negative campaign landscape, an avoidance of partisanship is quite difficult.

      Ryan’s budget, though well executed academically, does not bleed. No christian[ist] work ethic can claim that the R-R budget is intrinsically moral when many, if not most, Americans will never be able to save enough income (through mathematical impossibility) to provide for themselves in retirement. In my view, small[er] government budgets can only be morally imposed when citizens have a realistic chance of providing for themselves within the socio-political framework provided. In my view, the R-R budget does not fulfill both fiscal conservativism and social responsibility.

      I greatly commend the American Catholic bishops who have supported progressive Catholics’ critiques of the R-R budget. Now is the time to flex intellectual and political muscle and step out from the shadow of the abortion-issues pact with the Republican Party which has prevented not a few Catholics from speaking up about economic social justice. For once, we Catholics should discard socio-political litmus tests for religious allegiance and openly defy the possibly immoral consequences of the R-R budget. We must do this even if this might disturb or even jeopardize our carrot-stick relationship with the GOP on prenatal life issues.

      • Jordan,

        I think you may be under some misapprehensions about what is in the Ryan budget. For example, you say that the budget is immoral because ” many, if not most, Americans will never be able to save enough income (through mathematical impossibility) to provide for themselves in retirement.” The Ryan Plan, however, does not contain any proposal for cutting Social Security benefits (in fact it contains no proposal for reforming Social Security at all). There is a plan to reform Medicare that would restrain Medicare spending growth to GDP + 0.5%. But President Obama’s proposed budget also restrains growth in Medicare spending to GDP 0.5%.

        The issue dividing the Republicans and the Democrats is not whether to restrain Medicare spending, or even how much to restrain Medicare spending. It’s over how to do so. The President’s plan is to have a government board decide which treatments it will no longer cover. Ryan’s plan is to provide subsidies to help seniors pay for private insurance, and then rely on increased choice and competition to help bring down costs. Ryan’s proposal is more progressive than Obama’s (in that lower income folks receive more subsidies), and also gives people the option of sticking with traditional fee-for-service Medicare (whereas under Obama’s plan we are all stuck with the decisions of the IPAB).

        • Jordan

          Blackadder [August 15, 2012 10:45 am]: I think you may be under some misapprehensions about what is in the Ryan budget.

          Quite true. I’m not an economist but a humanities grad student. My absolutism was inappropriate.

          The Ryan Plan, however, does not contain any proposal for cutting Social Security benefits (in fact it contains no proposal for reforming Social Security at all).

          Saving for retirement includes saving for medical costs which exceed Medicare. Social Security as it stands today does not provide anywhere near enough money to provide for a senior’s medical care.

          The issue dividing the Republicans and the Democrats is not whether to restrain Medicare spending, or even how much to restrain Medicare spending. It’s over how to do so.

          Again quite true. Neither voucherization (Ryan) or the elimination of certain entitlement benefits (Obama) is in itself immoral or untenable. I will leave the morality of either approach to the more knowledgable.

          Yet how could a Catholic defend the Ryan budget’s drastic reduction of Medicaid in exchange for increased defense spending? Even the less economically educated realize the moral peril in this decision. Catholics must not be afraid to strongly question Romney, Ryan, and the Republican downticket on the morality of sharply reducing federal aid to the poor, even if doing so troubles the waters of the institutional Church’s political pact with the GOP. Silence for the sake of political stability is necessary complicity with any possible moral deficiencies in the Ryan budget.

    • My criticism was with the intellectual dishonest analysis of Hubbard, Mankiw, Taylor, and Hassett. I’m not going to attack a large group of economists who signed a vague letter ( notice the language on financial sector regulation!)

      As for the signers, I’ve never heard of the vast majority. The ones I have heard of often comes form the utterly discredited rational expectations- real business cycle school (they believe that economic policy has no effect on the economy whatsoever, and that all unemployment is voluntary). The fact that this is still taken seriously in Chicago and the midwestern schools is a serious indictment of the profession.

      There’s also a generational issue. Much of the exciting work in economics these days is being done by younger people who have rejected the whole hyper-rationality that used to permeate economics (it is also immoral). Think of the behavioralists, the work on wage bargaining, the work on inequality. In 20 years, the face of economics will look very different.

      • Blackadder

        Out of curiosity, MM, have you read the actual White Paper by Hubbard, et al, or just DeLong’s critique?

        • The paper, but very quickly.

        • Blackadder


          Didn’t it strike you as being just a slightly longer version of the vague letter the 400 economists signed?

  • Those 400 economists must be the moral equivalents of Malthusians. I have absolutely no use, myself, for the “dismal science,” and consider it to be something like sociology–a “bogus science.”

  • SB

    Macroeconomics is immeasurably far from being an actual empirical discipline — it seems to be mostly a matter of hand-waving opinions backed, at best, by cherry-picked observational studies that cannot even conceivably tell us anything about causality. In such a milieu, it is difficult to see the applicability of terms such as “intellectually dishonest.”

  • Blackadder

    One other note on the subject of intellectual honesty. Back in 2009, when Mankiw expressed skepticism with the Obama Administration’s view that we would have a quick recovery, DeLong and Krugman said that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Everybody knows that severe recessions are typically followed by catch-up growth. Mankiw was, of course, right, and DeLong, Krugman, and the Obama Administration were wrong. Now, when Mankiw points out that we haven’t had a quick recovery DeLong and Krugman accuse him of being dishonest. After all, everybody knows that severe recessions caused by financial crises typically are not followed by catch-up growth.

    When it comes to matters of intellectual honesty, I do not think Brad DeLong is a good guide.

    • Krugman said that? I thought Krugman was talking from day 1 about the gravity of the crisis, about how financial crises are particularly severe, how we are in a liquidity trap, and how the fiscal stimuilus was nowhere close to enough?

      By intellectual honesty, I’m not talking about the best forecasting records. I’m talking about deliberately misrepresenting the findings of somebody else’s work.

    • SB
      • What’s wrong with that? You can expect fast growth when unused capacity comes back into use. It just hasn’t. The fundamental point here is that there is a persistent shortage of demand, which spending cuts will exacerbate.

      • SB

        This is why arguments among macroeconomists always make me think of arguments among tea-leaf-readers or perhaps palm readers about why their way of interpreting tea leaves or palm creases is better. There’s no such thing as disconfirming evidence, as one can always come up with post hoc explanations about why the complexity of circumstances in reality prove that one’s original theory was right all along.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Dominic1955: would you please explain what you mean by “socially degenerate watermellon Volkspartei” as it applies to the Democratic party and President Obama?

    • dominic1955

      See above.

  • Mark VA

    Forgive me for interjecting, David, but:

    Watermelon is green on the outside, red on the inside.

    • Rodak

      @ Mark VA — Nice try.

      • dominic1955

        Also see above, he’s right on the money.

  • I apologize to all VN readers for having called Dominic1955 a pig. I do not, however, apologize for having characterized him as a racist.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Dear Dominic1955 and Mark VA:

    sorry, no: the connotations of “watermelon” are just too powerful in the racialized discourse of America for me to uncritically accept a “no, I meant something else” explanation. This is particularly the case with the additional use of “socially degenerate”. Both of these terms are so common in the racist lexicon in the US, both historically and currently, that if you are not aware of them, you should be

    Am I calling you racists? No. But neither am I going to give you a free pass to use this kind of language. I am not a “hysterical provocateur” as D’55 put it, but I am going to push back when I encounter this kind of racist language.

    • dominic1955

      Sorry, but blind political correctness and invoking the spectre of “racism” is just a ploy to shut people up. In the hyper-sensitive PC climate in this country, I am not going to stand for having such grave aspersions cast my way. I appreciate that you are not explicitly calling me a racist. Scripsit, scripsit and as such, I alone know the meaning. If you do not want to believe me, fine, but then the problem is yours. I can’t do more than be honest.

      Even just doing a quick google search with “watermelon political” (or anything similar) and the first thing that comes up is eco-socialism and a grand total of nothing racist related. It is not like its an archaic or obscure reference. Doing the same thing with “socially degenerate” (which I was refering to the left’s support of things like abortion, gay marriage, etc.) and I got an interesting article by Thomas Sowell (a black man, for folks who might not know of him) on some of the silly-season PC dogmas of race relations. That said, unfortunately some folks might refer to him using what is a truly racist food inspired term because he says things like this that depart from some of the cherished mantras.

      I would expect the politically astute folks here at VN to be up on terminology enough to get terms like this. It is one thing to use a term in a rather obscure way that one wouldn’t get without a good deal of background information and then try to play cute as if you didn’t know the more obvious connotations. Its another not to hamstring yourself because someone might come out and say what you said really doesn’t mean what you meant but necessarily has some far too powerful racist connotation.

      • As the author of this post, I would have trashed the comment had I read it carefully enough before accepting it. Because yes, I would have inferred racist intent. I accept your explanation, but please, you are using language tha comes from a little right wing bubble, so don’t expect ordinary people to be familiar with these terms.

        And also, racism is a very serious issue in this country right now. That was clear to me since 2008, with the attacks on Obama (the foreignness, the birth cert, the socialism, the venom, the unhinged disdain at an intelligent and forceful black man). And my instincts were quite correct – serious studies show that racism cost Obama 3-5 percent of the national vote. That’s a huge number, and there is no evidence that it will diminish this time. And shame and Fox News and the “movement right” for the racist dig whistles – the latest being Romney’s lies about Obama and welfare. All we need is Willy Horton and the white hands to pop up.

        As for complaints about “PC”, that’s so 20 years ago…

        • Yes, the president of the United States, with a campaign war chest of millions of dollars, needs you to defend him from someone using a racially charged word in a comment box.

          Today, the word “watermelon” gets through. Tomorrow, we’re back to lynchings and slavery!

          I’m not a fan of the term “cheap grace”, but something similar applies to the notion that your confronting the word watermelon is what’s standing between a peaceful society and unleashed racism.

        • dominic1955

          Its not even coming from a “little right wing bubble” that “ordinary” (little left wing bubble people I’m assuming…) wouldn’t get and you know it. I suppose you thought Dan Rather was a racist when he used the term “watermelon” in the same sentence as Obama.

          Not that I agree with the “birfers” at all, but its silly to chalk up “attacks” on Obama because he’s black. Any leftist would get the same treatment (and vice versa for rightists), he’s a politician and a big boy and I personally think its a mark in his favor that he doesn’t play the race card even though some of his minions do. Oops, probably shouldn’t have used “boy” and “Obama” in the same paragraph, that’s probably racist too. Back to the Re-Education Center for my thoughtcrime. Doubleplusungood. 🙁

          I wonder how much of the vote he got because of “reverse-racism”? I knew plenty of people who voted for “the black man” without any other qualifications-party, views, etc. Now, that’s anecdotal but I’d like to see some studies on that too. On the other hand, maybe just maybe he won most votes because people agreed with him and his platform and maybe he lost most votes because people disagreed with him and his platform?

      • As a matter of fact, I did google “watermelon” along with various other words, such as “Democrats”, “socialism”, and “progressives” without being able to find any reference to “green on the outside and red on the inside.” But, that said, you can’t possibly be so unaware of the connotations of “watermelon” in the context of discussing an African-American to have anything but a racist intent in using the term. And, as a matter of fact, just the use of an image describing a person as being one color on the outside and another on the inside is suggestive of other racial slurs, even if we accept Mark VA’s attempted save. Maybe it wasn’t your intention to be racist. If not, I suggest that next time you be a bit more intelligent.

        • Mark VA

          I did too, Rodak:

          I think you owe dominic1955 another apology.

        • dominic1955

          See above. I did it again too just to see if I was crazy or if my computer got infiltrated by some vast rightwinger conspiracy virus and nope, same thing again! I wouldn’t think Romney, the USCCB, the KKK and the rest of the goosesteppers would appeal to the denizens of their parent’s basement who rule the internet but whatever…
          This time I also got some snazzy recipes for watermelon martinis and some tips on how to tell if one is ripe on the vine. Obviously they are trying to throw us off the trail!

          Yes, I’m well aware of the connotations in different contexts but I would not have thought (I know, look what happens when you assume!) that sillyseason was going to come out of the woodwork here.

    • Mark VA

      David, you wrote:

      “Am I calling you racists? No. “, and then:

      “… I am going to push back when I encounter this kind of racist language.”

      Racists use racist language, no? Sounds like you are calling us simple racists, or dupes who need to be re-educated, or people who maliciously use words with double meaning.

      However, setting all that aside, in a way, David, this may be a good lesson for both of our sides:

      I object to the inclusion of Karl Marx on the banner of this Catholic site, you object to certain uses of the word “watermelon”. The situations reflect each other. Karl Marx is the founder of a political philosophy, the application of which has resulted in the deaths of tens of millions around the globe, if not more. Also, the word “watermelon” does have a history of being used in truly racist contexts.

      The rub is this: MM was quick to dismiss my objections (Karl Marx is there so you can “engage” him, whatever that means), whereas dominic1955 at least gave you a thorough, spirited, reply.

      So how shall we resolve this impasse?

      • Once again I ask, why do you do single out Marx? We have folks like van Mises, Mill, Locke. Is if OK to have them but not Marx???

        • Mark VA

          A fair question, MM. He is different.

          His philosophy, wherever it is applied, results in death and untold misery. His promises of a paradise on Earth are empty.

          Allow me a generalization – many on the intellectual Left in the West, still like to play with this philosophy in the abstract, as if the practical and historical side of its application does not exist. The piles of its victims are ignored. Some on the Left, in their more candid moments, even opine that if they had a chance at it, they would do it right. I see in that boast signs of blindness, even pride. In a word, giving him a place on your banner, especially for a Catholic site, is an insult to the victims of this philosophy.

          Yet, in a way, it is fortuitous that we’ve stumbled onto this watermelon patch, because we now have two situations that somewhat reflect each other.

          If you would like to assist in resolving this impasse, then some links that show how Vox Nova engages with this philosophy may be of help. And perhaps your banner could be re-imagined.

      • @ MarkVA– I don’t think I owe him another apology. The article says the term is “apparently” prevailent in New Zealand, Australia, and…oh…the United States. How “apparent” can it be when virtually everybody who read it here on VN, where politically aware individuals hang out to mull over things topical, took it as racist? As I told D1955 directly, even if he didn’t mean it in a racist way, he should have been smart enough not to apply it to an African-American. There is an infinite number of ways to express the same idea using racially neutral terminology. I never heard the term before, and I doubt that it was ever used on, say, Al Gore.

        • Mark VA

          “How “apparent” can it be when virtually everybody who read it here on VN, where politically aware individuals hang out to mull over things topical, took it as racist?”

          Take your pick:

          Knee-jerk reaction, conditioning, living in a bubble, jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, indoctrination, the spectre of Saul Alinsky ? Let me
          stop lest I slip into tautology.

          But seriously, I’ve heard of it long before 2008.

        • dominic1955

          Pretty much, I summed it up with “hysterical” but that’s a good list of what that would entail.

          Just for argument sake, let’s just assume its more prevalent over in Austrailia and New Zealand. Is the claim of the left to be oh-so-very global and international in scope and to have such open minds unchained by the crude provincialism of conservative knuckle-draggers like me a hollow boast? Perish the though…

          Feel free to self-righteously bleat beige goodthink/speech to your heart’s content and do our already beleagured society a favor by keeping your non-existent judgmentalism to yourself.

  • Mark VA, are you not aware that a number of popes are on record as saying that, while they certainly cannot agree with Marx’s position regarding religion, they value his critiques of the capitalist system, and believe that they contribute considerably to the ameliorating of its injustices, if applied in a non-violent fashion?

    • @MarkVA — As if the capitalist system, its expansion and protection hasn’t resulted in millions of deaths and injustices, all over the globe. It’s not Marx’s philosophy that has resulted in all that carnage, but the ruthless attempts of certain ideologues to implement it, despite strong opposition.

  • Mark VA

    Provide the sources, Digby.

  • For your edification:

    “…It is apparent that Fidel Castro and Pope John Paul II sense some common purpose as well. Over the past two decades, they have been making fitful progress toward their historic public encounter this week in Havana. There have been frequent breakdowns, to be sure, along the way. …Yet the underlying impetus for this meeting has been strong enough to overcome all obstacles. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave it a new urgency and, by the same token, mooted Cold War objections to it. John Paul II, having helped destabilize the Communist governments of Eastern Europe, is dismayed by the corrosive materialism that has now taken hold there. One friend who has had meetings with Castro told me recently that Fidel regards himself and the Pope as the only world leaders willing to condemn the triumphalist neoliberal capitalism that both believe is widening the gap between rich and poor, especially in developing countries. To be sure, the superstructure of Castro’s anticapitalism is Communist, historical materialist, and secularist, whereas that of John Paul II is anti-Communist, spiritual, and formally religious. These are not trivial differences. But, with Communism dead as a global model and capitalism sweeping everything before it—even in Cuba—both men can afford to pay attention to the points where their views and interests converge. Both men, after all, are visionaries, and both, as a matter of philosophical belief, reject the free market’s implicit view of mankind as the sum of its material wants.

    Can the transcendent social vision of the Revolution be squared with the transcendent spiritual vision of the Church? One of the Pope’s favorite quotations is from St. John of the Cross: “At the sunset of our lives, we shall be tested in love.” As Castro and John Paul consider what they will leave behind when darkness falls, these two masters of symbolism see great value in standing together against what both see, in different but overlapping ways, as the forces that threaten to undo the work of their lives. They believe, each for his own reasons, that this gesture may have a profound effect on the future of Cuba and of Latin America…”
    Finally, the “new ministry” of the Catholic Church that I admire the most—more than Opus Dei, or even L’Arch—is the Community of Sant’Egidio, whose headquarters I had the privilege of visiting this past summer in Rome.
    Can you tell me how the vision of social justice described by these best of all Catholics squares in the LEAST with that of Catholic neo-libertarians or neo-“conservatives” like Paul Ryan? It seems to me that there could not POSSIBLY be two more antithetical positions than between regarding the poor and dispossessed as the Revelation of Christ to the well-off, and the view of such a neo-Randian as Ryan, who obviously believes that the poor are a “problem” to be solved by visiting more material blight upon them, so that they and their children might become, eventually, more “virtuous,” more “industrious”:
    The Ryan-Romney ideological position regarding economic justice is the “preferential option” AGAINST the poor, which depicts them as an enemy of the “virtuous,” the believers in what that beautiful article calls the “lie of prosperity,” as somehow a drag on society. That is a culturally Protestant view of socio-economics, because, at bottom, it partakes of soteriological predestination, one of the two grievous heresies of the great Protestant heresiarchs. I don’t deny that that terrible heresy in ingrained in American culture, but that’s why American culture is deeply, profoundly anti-Catholic.

    • I’ve often remarked to myself that the grave political and social divisions in the United States are beyond the mere abilities of citizens to mend. From the very beginning of the republic the “northern” (or perhaps “blue”) and “southern” (or perhaps “red”) United States have been two distinct cultures, united save for four years by a political and monetary union but precious little else. This, I believe, is the existential cross of America: two siblings of radically different temperaments must learn to cooperate to survive or perish. What “northerners” view as necessities of a “civilized society” (laicite and social democracy, for example) are indeed quite threatening to the deep interlace of institutionalized morality and religious institutions which pervade southern social order. A dismissal of the southern socio-religious-political nexus as “Protestant work ethic” belies the fact that the American south has had to live under the centuries-long disdain of their more wealthy and secular northern neighbors even while knowing that the “northern” ethic is foreign and even inimical to their social cohesion.

      Certainly, the centuries of overt and brutal institutionalized racism in the south cannot be excused. And yet, do we “northerners” get a pass on racism when we excluded minorities from civil equality through more implicit means such as residential redlining? Certainly not. Here in New England both black and white people have for centuries been able to enter through the same doors into buildings, but have nevertheless remained implicitly segregated. This is but little improvement over Jim Crow.

      Those who know how to pray: please pray. The social and political polarization of the United States cannot be solved, but merely managed in charity and mutual recognitions of our sins and failings.

      • dominic1955

        You make some good points. A general American “ethos” can be remembered through the historical War between the States and the “North” and “South” make for good catch-all terms to describe the divide.

        I think the real divide is between the rural agrarian-rooted cultures symbolized by the “Southerners” which would include midwesterners like me and the urban industrial/consumer rooted cultures of those symbolized by the “Northerners”. I know its right below the surface implicitly thought in the “South” that why does some hack from Chicago or New York think they need to micromanage what we do out here in Middleofnowhere, NE or Lazy River, MS? Push comes to shove, if TEOTWAWKI happens, you “Northerners” are fighting over scraps of garbage in an ashen sarcophagus of twisted steel and crumbling concrete. We’ve got guns, trucks, land as far as the eye can see and we’ve known our neighbors for generations. Just another day in Eden, ahh…smell that fresh country air! That’s obviously extreme (teotwawki doesn’t weigh heavily on the minds of most anyone in reality), but the deeper underlying theme is that the urbanites seem to be uppity parasites that have the gall to belittle the backs and brows that feed, clothe, and shelter them.

        Please pray is right. The best we can hope for is a sincere respect and cooperative spirit.

  • Mark VA

    Digby (and Rodak):

    I must confess that when I asked for your sources, I was more curious to see where you’ll dig, so to speak, than what it is that you’ll dig up. Yet, it’s a genuine surprise that you dug up Beatroot, the intrepid Brit. He, in his own words, quips: “I specialize in provocative headlines…that’s how you get new readers…”

    Regardless, your assertion that “… a number of popes are on record as saying that, while they certainly cannot agree with Marx’s position regarding religion, they value his critiques of the capitalist system, and believe that they contribute considerably to the ameliorating of its injustices, if applied in a non-violent fashion?” has a troubling subtext.

    I believe that it is an elementary mistake to assume that Pope John Paul’s II criticisms of the injustices that can be found in the free market, are equivalent in nature to his criticisms of Marxist philosophy and its application. The difference between these two sets of criticisms is on the order of comparing the problems associated with the common flu, to the problems of a terminal disease, respectively. The distinction should be clear at all times, to guard against falling into this false equivalence. Do you agree with this?

    Perhaps the best source on this Pope’s thinking about this matter, is his encyclical “Centesimus Annus”:

    Rodak: I think we live in parallel universes. BTW, are we clear on this “watermelon” business now?

    • MarkVa, the work in which John Paul II was most explicit about what he considered to be Marxism’s positive contributions to an ethical critique of capitalist society was Crossing the Threshold of Hope, a collection of interviews he did with an Italian journalist, but I, unfortunately, cannot cite it for you, because I don’t have it with me here in India. It’s in my library, most of which is in storage in the United States.

    • If you are clear on why it was thoughtless to use it in reference to an African-American, then the issue is resolved on that level. There is also the problem that it does not accurately describe the liberal agenda, and Pres. Obama’s in particular. But let it go.
      If you are questioning my assertion that capitalism is responsible for millions of deaths and much destruction, just consider the history of colonialism and the attempts by the Western powers to establish and protect economic hegemony all over the globe. You may believe that the U.S. of A. has every right–perhaps as mandated by the Almighty–to garrison the entire planet, but there are those who would take issue with your assumptions on that score.

  • Mark VA


    I’ve re-read all the references to Communism and Communism’s Fall in the “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”, and based on what I’ve re-read, I wouldn’t claim that this book acknowledges “Marxism’s positive contributions to an ethical critique of capitalist society”.

    On page 132 (English edition), Pope John Paul II says:

    “In a certain sense Communism as a system fell by itself. It fell as a consequence of its own mistakes and abuses. It proved to be a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself. It did not bring about true social reform, yet it did become a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world. But it fell by itself, because of its own inherent weakness.”

    At most, it notes (page 131) that Communism’s protest of the abuses of early Capitalism had its counterpart in “Rerum Novarum”.

    “It proved to be a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself” – this should give pause to those Western intellectuals who are eager to make an equivalence between the problems of Capitalism, and the problems of Communism. As if those intellectuals, always eager to say something new, truly understood the inside reality of Communism…

    Anyway, we don’t need Marx and his entourage to help us diagnose, and cure, the problems of Capitalism. The teachings of our Church will do that just fine. Have you heard of Father Charles J.McFadden, O.S.A, PhD? Back in the day, he wrote a good primer on this subject, just with those intellectuals in mind.

    • I would agree with you that we don’t need Marx to diagnose the moral and ethical failings of “free market” capitalism, or why it demeans spirituality in people’s lives, but for the STRUCTURAL failings of the system, and for how it leads inexorably to too much concentrations of unaccountable economic power in too few hands, leading, inevitably, to the “crony capitalism” we see today and the impoverishment of the very bourgeoisie that originally supported and implemented the economic system, Marxism will do just fine: many of Marx’s predictions are coming true now.

      • Mark VA


        Short of experiencing the enormous difference between these two systems personally – if you’re not already familiar with his work, take a look at Father Charles J.McFadden.