More Good News, Bad News

There’s good news about the economy, which means good news about people’s lives. From Paul Krugman:

At the beginning of this year, the United States was still very much in the depths of the pandemic. Daily deaths were higher than ever, with Covid-19 taking more than 3,500 lives in the country every day. Parts of the economy that depend on close physical contact were largely frozen. . . .

Then came an extraordinarily successful vaccination campaign. Deaths have plunged more than 85 percent and are still dropping. As fear recedes, the economy is surging, in what may end up being the fastest recovery ever. . . . 

Why would anyone imagine us able to achieve that kind of sudden acceleration without leaving a few skid marks, and maybe even burning some rubber?

So yes, sawmill operators, who expected a longer slump, got caught short, leading to sky-high lumber prices. Rental car companies, which sold off a large part of their fleets last year, are now scrambling to buy vehicles again, helping to send used-car prices soaring. And so on.

What about those reports of labor shortages? Some of this is what always happens after a period of high unemployment: Businesses grow accustomed to having job applicants lined up at their doors, and get cranky when the buyers’ market ends. . . .

Mainly, however, we’re just seeing the problems you’d expect when the economy tries to roar ahead from a standing start, which means that we’re calling on suppliers to ramp up production incredibly fast and expecting employers to quickly attract a large number of new workers. These problems are real, but they’ll mostly resolve themselves in a few months.

So what do these probably temporary problems say about the longer term, and in particular about President Biden’s economic plans? That’s easy: nothing. Politicians gonna politician, and Biden’s opponents are seizing on every negative bit of news as proof that his entire agenda is doomed. But none of it should be taken seriously. . . . None of this tells you anything at all about how much we should worry about overheating, let alone how much more we should be spending on infrastructure and family support (answer: a lot) or how we should pay for these initiatives (answer: tax corporations and the rich).

. . . There is some bad news out there, but most of it is a temporary byproduct of extraordinary good news: The virus is losing, and the economy is winning.

Or more succinctly, from the White House:

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On the other hand — and it’s a giant hand with about twelve dangerous fingers — one side is trying to rig the game even more than it already is. This is part of an interview from Vox:

Sean Illing

You were urging Democrats in 2018 to pass the sorts of reforms that are still on the table today, like packing the courts or granting statehood to DC and Puerto Rico. Are we beyond that now?

David Faris (political scientist and author of It’s Time to Fight Dirty)

What needs to be done has gotten more complex. The structural problems are even worse than I anticipated. I also didn’t fully anticipate the unapologetically authoritarian turn in Republican politics. But the fixes are still there. You have to abolish the filibuster in the Senate, you have to mandate national nonpartisan redistricting, you have to make voting easier, and you have to outlaw some of these Republican voter suppression tactics.

Sean Illing

I’ve had conversations with some Democrats and when these ideas about nuking the filibuster or court-packing or granting statehood to DC and Puerto Rico come up, the argument is often that it’s a nonstarter because [senators] Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema simply won’t do it. What’s wrong with that thinking?

David Faris

Certainly the laws that you can pass are contingent on getting the most moderate member of your caucus on board. . . .

Where Manchin seems to be very far away from what House Democrats want to do is on the democracy reform stuff. It’s maddening because nothing that Manchin wants to do policy-wise can get done without abolishing the filibuster. Democrats are not going to have a majority after next year if they don’t do some of these things now. So it’s a mistake to assume Manchin can’t be moved. That’s the job of leadership. That’s Joe Biden’s job. That’s Chuck Schumer’s job.

Sean Illing

Let’s just say that Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, for whatever reason, refuse to respond to the realities of the moment — then what?

David Faris

It’s bleak. I don’t know what else to say.

Democrats have to get extremely lucky next year. They either need to luck into the most favorable environment for the president’s party that we haven’t ever had for a midterm election or … I don’t know. There’s not much else they can do. None of these democracy reforms can get through on a reconciliation bill. If Democrats don’t pass nonpartisan redistricting, they’re going to be fighting at a huge disadvantage in the House. That’s the ballgame.

Progressive activists are going to pour a billion dollars into the Florida Senate race and then [Marco] Rubio is going to win by 10 points. So if they don’t act, it’s very simple. The Democrats will have to fight on this extremely unfair playing field against a newly radicalized Republican Party that is going to pull out all the stops in terms of voter suppression to win these elections, on top of the situation where they’re making other changes to state laws that could allow them to mess around with results in other ways, like what we’re seeing in Georgia now.

There’s a very circular structure to this kind of proto-authoritarianism. You have anti-democratic practices at the state level that produce minority Republican governments that pass anti-democratic laws that end up in front of courts that are appointed by a minoritarian president and approved by a minoritarian Senate that will then rule to uphold these anti-democratic practices at the state level.

And so there is no path to beating some of these laws through the courts. The Supreme Court has already said it’s not going to touch gerrymandering. And so there’s nothing left except Congress using its constitutional authority under the elections clause to do some regulation to the elections. I just don’t see another way.

Sean Illing

It feels like we’re sleepwalking into a real crisis here, but it’s hard to convey the urgency because it’s not dramatic and it’s happening in slow motion and so much of life feels so normal. And yet our democratic system is losing any semblance of legitimacy and down that road is a range of possibilities no one wants to seriously consider. …

David Faris

When people think of democracy dying, they think of some very dramatic event like Trump riding down Pennsylvania Avenue in a tank or something. That’s not the reality here.

Take the scenario where Republicans don’t have to steal the 2024 election. They just use their built-in advantages in which Biden wins the popular vote by three points but still loses the Electoral College. Democrats win the House vote but lose the House. Democrats win the Senate vote, but they lose the Senate.

That’s a situation where the citizens of the country fundamentally don’t have control of the agenda and they don’t have the ability to change the leadership. Those are two core features of democracy, and without them, you’re living in competitive authoritarianism. People are going to wake up the next day and go to work, and take care of their kids, and live their lives, and democracy will be gone. . . .

Statistics for a Sunday Afternoon

Over the past 20 years, the US economy has grown at an annual rate of 1.9%. Goldman Sachs predicts a rate of 7% for 2021 (Washington Post).

The provision in President Biden’s Covid relief bill to send almost all families monthly checks of up to $300 per child would move close to 10 million children above the poverty line, cutting child poverty nearly in half (Los Angeles Times).

Asked to describe what happened during the assault on the Capitol, 58% of [the unindicted co-conspirator’s] voters call it “mostly an Antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few of [his] supporters” (USA Today).

We’ve had almost 500,000 confirmed Covid deaths in the US. To include that many names, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would have to be 87 feet tall (Washington Post).

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The number of atoms in your body is roughly 1028 — that’s a 1 followed by 28 zeros (New York Times). There are around 1,000 different species of bacteria living on your skin (Nature).

Blogging Made Very, Very Easy (Political Economy Edition)

I could just quote Paul Krugman. With appropriate attribution, of course:

But how can the effects of redistribution on growth be benign? Doesn’t generous aid to the poor reduce their incentive to work? Don’t taxes on the rich reduce their incentive to get even richer? Yes and yes — but incentives aren’t the only things that matter. Resources matter too — and in a highly unequal society, many people don’t have them.

Think, in particular, about the ever-popular slogan that we should seek equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. That may sound good to people with no idea what life is like for tens of millions of Americans; but for those with any reality sense, it’s a cruel joke. Almost 40 percent of American children live in poverty or near-poverty. Do you really think they have the same access to education and jobs as the children of the affluent?

… This isn’t just bad for those unlucky enough to be born to the wrong parents; it represents a huge and growing waste of human potential — a waste that surely acts as a powerful if invisible drag on economic growth.

Now, I don’t want to claim that addressing income inequality would help everyone. The very affluent would lose more from higher taxes than they gained from better economic growth. But it’s pretty clear that taking on inequality would be good, not just for the poor, but for the middle class….

In short, what’s good for the 1 percent isn’t good for America. And we don’t have to keep living in a new Gilded Age if we don’t want to.

One of the comments at the Times website suggested we should stop talking about equality and talk about fairness instead. When we talk about equality, the right-wing response is “but people aren’t all the same  — what you want to do is punish success”. That’s not true but it’s a clever response. The natural response to talking about fairness is “life isn’t fair”. No, but we could and should make it more fair than it is. Not just for ethical reasons, but, as Krugman points out, for pragmatic reasons as well.