The Decade of Fear

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Since everyone is summing up the decade, here are my two cents:

In America, it was the decade of fear. Beginning with Y2K, punctuated by 9/11, and ending with the continuing uncertainty of economic apocalypse.

We have gone, in a matter of a decade, from the security and comfort of Pax Americana, to, at best, a weak bipolar partner whose straits are inelegantly summed up by the popular construction Chimerica.

We are polarized, insecure, and, not surprisingly, at risk.

It hasn’t been a pretty picture.

You can figure out who to blame for yourself.


Sunday Notes and Marginalia

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Housing near bottom? Fannie thinks so. Calculated Risk? Not so much. I agree. (Fred Barnes?) [Calculated Risk]

Should Madoffs victims be means tested before getting IRS refunds? Well, let’s put it this way, should Steven Spielberg get a real payout on fictitious profits? I didn’t think so. By all means, give back whatever tax was paid on the fake gains – but please – the compensation / victimization culture is sickening. Why 9/11 and Madoff and not, say, Oklahoma City and Lehman shareholders? It’s insanity. You put your money in the market and you put it at risk. You trust someone without due diligence, you put your money at risk. [Clusterstock]

Larry Summers on Meet the Press:

But cautions that we’ve got a long way to go, that there are still substantial risks, that there are downside contingencies that we’ve got to prepare for, that there are issues in the global economy, that there are issues in commercial real estate, that’s right.

On my mind today:

  • Will the market come back to reality this week? Will the next steep drop begin tmw? It is certainly coming soon.
  • Is this crisis the end of the American dominance? Trite question now, of course, but feeling very real to me today. That would make the Clinton 90s the apotheosis of American Empire. And Bush (9/11) the catalysis that broke our upward trajectory.

  • Unemployment Hits 8.5%

    Friday, April 3, 2009

    With real unemployment at 15.6%! From the WSJ:

    But the Labor Department’s most comprehensive gauge of unemployment surpassed even its early 1980s levels. The government’s broader measure, known as the “U-6″ for its data classification, hit 15.6% in March — a big leap from 14.8% in February.

    The comprehensive measure of labor underutilization accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs. The March figure is the highest since the Labor Department started this particular data series in 1994. It’s also above a discontinued and even broader measure that hit 15% in late 1982, when the official unemployment rate was 10.8%. (That data series goes back to the 1970s.)

    Almost 1 in 5 people. If 20% of the labor force is not working in an economy built on consumption (and with credit contracting), what do you think is going to happen to that economy?

    Geithner and Bernanke are bailing hard (and dangerously, and sometimes (see previous post) disgracefully), but the end is not here just yet. And when they end comes, we’re still going to have big, big problems.


    Thoughts on the Obama Inaugural

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    If I had time, I’d organize these into an essay…but I don’t, so…

    1) There is a terrific irony in the Obama victory. His candidacy was sealed, in my opinion, by the Sarah Palin pick. Palin may have solidified the GOP wingnut “base,” but she cost McCain the sensible, conservatively-inclined middle – including a great many so-called Reagan Democrats. Palin’s candidacy was a stand-in for the Southern strategy that has been so effective for the GOP. She appeals to the proudly ignorant, to the uneducated masses, to all those who are threatened by America’s multiculturalism. It was her candidacy, the very real possibility of the worst of us ascending to the highest office in the land, that ultimately made voters either reject her, or, at the very least, stay home. In other words, ignorance helped usher in a new dawn in America. Sarah Palin, with a massive assist from W., was finally enough to bring about the day when education bested ignorance.

    2) This is likely beaten to death everywhere, but I haven’t been reading a lot about the inaugural, so I’m going to take my shot and write about the dynamism of American democracy. Where else, indeed? Really, no where else – not in this way, not at this time. I do not like American triumphalism, that perpetual pat-ourselves-on-the-back that pours forth among Rupert Murdoch’s propagandists, but in this case, it is well deserved. America truly is the world’s first microcosmic global community. Here we have everyone, people from all over the world, finding opportunity, living lives unimaginable in their homelands, becoming Americans and, without limitation, it now seems, seeking to fulfill their highest aspirations. This is what gives me hope for America. This is why I don’t bet against us now. Because, for all our faults, we are always ready to begin again anew. America has grown on its ancient wounds a stronger fiber and possibility is now effused with light and momentum. This is the dynamic character of a free and ever adaptable people. We are down now. But we are not out. We are never out. This election has proved that again.

    3) More later…no time to write now…


    Race and IQ

    Saturday, December 6, 2008

    James Flynn (the Flynn effect demonstrates that IQ improves over generations, indicating the influence of environmental factors in forming IQ) wrote in New Scientist a couple of months ago about African-Americans and IQ. The article is only available to subscribers, but the Cambridge University Press blog has the whole piece.

    On average over the last 30 years, African-Americans score 15 points lower on IQ tests than whites. Flynn believes, and there is considerable evidence to support this, that the cause of this difference is not related to genetics, but to environment.

    His main point?

    I believe we must show that the environments in which black children are raised are on average less cognitively demanding than those of most other ethnic groups.

    He goes into a long (I believe flawed) analysis of the “black marriage market.” His take:

    Government statistics show that at birth there are 104 black boys for every 100 girls. Between ages 25 and 45, six more men than women are dead, leaving 98 men for every 100 women. Of these 98 men, nine are in jail, eight are missing and 21 are employed less than half-time. That leaves 60 “promising” black men – men who are alive, employed and not convicted felons. Also consider that promising black men living with a non-black partner outnumber white men with a black partner by three. That leaves only 57 black men for every 100 women in a position to be a permanent partner.

    Out of 100 black women, 43 face the choice of either having a child by a black man who is unlikely to settle down with them or going childless.

    This, of course, assumes that of the 100 women he started with all are “promising.” I don’t disagree with his general thrust, but surely the numbers are overly stark. In any case, he points this problem out to make the case that:

    There is a strong case that black Americans suffer from a series of disadvantageous environments. Studies show time and again that before they go to school, black children are on average exposed to a smaller vocabulary than white children, in part due to socioeconomic factors.

    Obviously, an incredibly sensitive issue, because it’s an indictment. But it also is a cause for some hope, because the problem – a cultural and environmental one – is not fixed and can be changed.

    Flynn sums up:

    I believe that America, however, has been reluctant to really examine the cause of the racial IQ gap or the factors that create the black marriage market, let alone come up with credible plan to deal with it. Perhaps those who strongly object to my views will show how American society can be affecting black IQ without doing something extremely tough and unpleasant to the immediate environment black children experience.

    Shouts about class will not do, nor will claims of test bias or stereotyping. America will have to address all the aspects of black experience that are disadvantageous, beginning with the regeneration of inner city neighbourhoods and their schools. A resident police office and teacher in every apartment block would be a good start. Only heresy can give an environmental explanation of the black IQ deficit. To run away from debate is like unilateral disarmament: it leaves the enemy in possession of the field.


    Redemption

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    It is impossible to express the feelings I know that I am sharing with millions today. There are so many thoughts and emotions. I am overjoyed. This is what we deserve. And what we must now all bear responsibility for. We have taken America back and will be led by one of the best of us.

    Right now, I feel that the spirit of America that was crushed by Bush after 9/11 has been redeemed.

    We are one. We must unite. We must strive to be our best selves.

    The America we love is in the balance. Let us now begin the task of restoring our greatness.

    The question of the moment is: What are we going to do to help?