Well, Whaddya Know?

After all these years, we’ve come to realize that economists – that is, real economists – don’t believe in so-called supply-side economics at all.

From today’s The New Republic, Dismal Scientists vs. Credulous Public:

“Permanently raising the federal tax rate by one percentage point for those in the top income tax bracket would increase federal tax revenue over the next 10 years.”

This is a bit like saying if you jump into a swimming pool you’ll get wet. When researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management presented this statement to a “panel of distinguished economists,” 100 percent of them agreed with it. But when the researchers presented this statement to the general public only 66 percent of respondents agreed with it. Only fifty percent of Republicans agreed with it, compared to 80 percent of Democrats. “This difference exists in spite of the fact that this statement is factual, not political,” the researchers observed. “Indeed, all economists, regardless of their political orientation, agree with it.”

Why does a substantial percentage of the public continue to believe in something experts don’t? Because, for several high-profile political candidates, expressed faith in the supply-side fairies is a foundational element of their campaign communication. Repeat something often enough and passionately enough, this seems to suggest, and you can get a lot of people to believe in almost anything.

Raging Against the Wrong Machine

“We need somebody who is engaged in sudden and relentless reform and isn’t afraid to shake it up. Shake up that establishment. So, if for no other reason, to rage against the machine. Vote for Newt…” Sarah Palin, 1/28/12

Hey, Sarah:

Don’t know if you’re aware that the Newt you’re talking about was a member of the United States House of Representatives for 20 years, serving 4 years as Speaker of the House, behind only the Vice President of the United States in succession to the Presidency. And since leaving the House, the Newt guy you talk about as if he were Spartacus has been a de facto, if not nominal lobbyist for some of America’s biggest establishment enterprises.

Hate to break it to you, Sarah, but Newt Gingrich IS the machine.

Your pal,

Brent

P.S. – That’s him in the photo, on the upper right.

A New Oxi Day: Greece Stays Sovereign

In what might be considered an echo of Oxi Day, now more than 70 years on: the Greek government has rebuffed a German proposal to cede control of its finances to the Eurozone. To have accepted, many observers believe, would have amounted to giving up no small measure of national sovereignty – for which there is no popular support.

It is surprising that, even in light of Europe’s 20th century history of conflict and mistrust between nations, some governments in Europe still do not seem to understand how their paternalistic and heavy-handed demands might be perceived by others.

The World’s Funniest Men, Alive

12. Alec Baldwin – The day after he goes violently and publicly insane (which will happen, mark my words), people will be on TV saying how surprised they are because, “He looked like such a nice man.” Don’t believe it; this handsomely normal looking man from 30 Rock is evil incarnate.

11. Ty Burrell – The first time I saw Burrell, he shot his daughter’s date in the neck with a BB gun, then got himself caught in a lie after crawling into the bedroom of a busty neighborhood divorcee. Then there was the time with the fake mustache and porta-potty. Ty is definitely in the hizzle.

10. Jason SudeikisSaturday Night Live has had more than its share of funny people; with his rubber face, amazing range of recurring characters, and writing chops, Sudeikis stands among the best ever. His uncle is George Wendt, Norm from the TV series Cheers. ‘Nuff said; talent is hereditary.

9. Maz Jobrani – Brilliant, fast, Berkeley-educated, politically aware, cross-cultural, eagle-eyed observer of human behavior. Here, Jobrani discusses the true nature of the Iranian people. See, the Axis of Evil can be funny too.

8. Will Ferrell – Few actors have demonstrated the comedic range of Ferrell, from Elf to Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby to madly funny characterizations of George W. Bush.

7. Jerry Seinfeld – Innocent-looking Seinfeld is nothing less than a revolutionary. His eponymous show about self-involved people without any redeeming characteristics radically changed what TV audiences see, laugh at, and love. His film, Comedian shows how hard it is to be funny.

6. Dave Chappelle – “I’m Rick James, bitch.” Chappelle conceived, wrote, created and starred in a groundbreaking TV show that presented a fearless array of observations and characters. His standup routines are renowned free-form epics.

5. Fred Armisen – Impersonation of Barack Obama? Nails it. Billy Smith’s bizarre joke-telling? Hilarious. The “singing” of Garth and Kat? Brilliantly twisted. But Armisen’s true range may be on its best display in Portlandia.

4. Steve Carell – Like comedy giant Bob Newhart, Carell looks like any accountant you might see on the morning train downtown. But inside, there’s a big screw loose and you can sense it. This guy can explode, and often in hilarious and unexpected ways. His scenes with Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement in Dinner for Schmucks are pure genius.

3. Ricky Gervais – Among the world’s most courageous comedians. Will look like an idiot. Will offend. Will appear sadistic. Will seemingly do anything for a laugh. Said to a predominantly American audience at an awards show: “I’m from a little place called England; we used to run the world before you.” All the other people speaking on the stage that night gave their self-serving insipid little speeches, then he came up and blew the doors off the place. His version of The Office was such a brutally honest critique of modern business, you sometimes had to turn away.

2. Jon Stewart – It’s inherently funny that his pretend comedy newscast is independently rated America’s most trusted source for news, seriously. In the ancient tradition of political satirists, Stewart creates the opportunity for us to look at the absurdity of our lives by making fun of the powerful and their bald stupidity. Here, of course, is his secret: he’s blindingly smart and he reads everything. Also, he’s not cowed by the real powerful people he talks about and hosts on his show. He asks what our real journalists ought to be asking but are too afraid to.

1. Newt Gingrich – Let me get this straight: Newt brought his first wife divorce papers in the hospital while she fought cancer. He started having an affair with his third wife while married to his second wife, who was then fighting MS. He led the fight to impeach President Bill Clinton for lying about an affair with a White House aide while Newt himself, then Speaker of the House, was having an affair with a Congressional aide.  Then, seemingly impervious to the sweet irony, criticized a debate moderator as “close to despicable,” for asking about any of this. Do I have that about right, Newt? Now, that’s funny.

Real Conservative Principles

Many times, over the past several years, conservative candidates for political office, especially those tied to the Tea Party, have criticized as unethical governmental budget deficits, considering them unfair burdens on succeeding generations. From the Tea Party USA website: “This has created huge debts and deficits that threaten the very stability of the United States as far as its ability to compete on a world level and provide a sound economy for the next generation to thrive and prosper.” [italics added]

We’ve seen this idea expressed most often, most recently among the candidates in the race for the GOP presidential nomination.  “We don’t have to mortgage our children’s future to pay for our present.” [Newt Gingrich, February 3, 2010, Deficit Hawks vs. Deficit Peacocks, HumanEvents.com]

Fair enough. Saving for future generations is, indeed, an authentically conservative principle. But surely, thinking about present-day consumption relative to the burden we may place on future generations  shouldn’t apply solely to government finance. In order to be philosophically consistent, real conservative principles should extend to our practices around energy and the environment as well. We routinely use, develop and put to our wealth and benefit these resources, then leave the cost of cleanup to future generations. Where, for example, is Tea Party outrage over America’s addiction to fossil fuels?

The answer is, nowhere, because the extraction and use of the earth’s non-renewable resources is properly a matter for the free market to adjudicate, say Tea Partiers; future generations be damned. In his book, Thought and Wisdom, a brilliant economist, father of operations research and systems thinking, and a great teacher and mentor of mine, C. West Churchman, wrote a decidedly conservative critique of this sort of thinking. We can’t, Churchman wrote, ethically say to our grandchildren, “Look, we got a lot of wealth and benefit from consuming those resources, sorry but you’ll have to deal with the consequences.”

True conservative principles demand attention to all the ways in which decisions about today’s behavior should be made with thought for future generations. All the ways.

Let’s hold those who claim to be conservative to that standard.

The World’s Funniest Women

10. Mindy Kaling – Ivy educated, versatile, completely plugged in (@mindykaling), and whip-smart. And smart is funny.

9. Frances McDormand – Probably known more for dramatic roles but ever her dramatic roles are rooted in real humor. Her character in Fargo? Hysterical. The film version of Madeline? Don’t get me started.

8. Jamie Lee Curtis – Honest. Seemingly no ego. Human. Funny as hell. It could be in the genes.

7. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Get OUT! The classic girlfriend response from Seinfeld. Holds her own with the best of them. Goofy facial expressions light it up.

6. Catherine O’Hara – Purposeful yet effortless cluelessness. Would be in the Top 10 for Mighty Wind alone.

5. Sarah Silverman – Pretty girlishness meets an insanely foul-mouth. Although many people can take her the wrong way (is there a right way to take her?) and be offended, that’s really the point of her humor. Sarah Silverman is fearless.

4. Tina Fey – A gifted writer, producer and performer. Gifted in the sense that she keeps a million independent balls in the air simultaneously, and for comic effect. Not only couldn’t you keep them up, you wouldn’t even have thought of juggling those balls together in the first place. Brilliant.

3. Kristen Wiig – Who ARE you, Kristen Wiig? Just who the hell ARE you?

2. Betty White – Looks, talks and acts like my mom (really, it’s sometimes disorienting and frightening). Has been one of America’s funniest women for over four decades (think Mary Tyler Moore Show, Golden Girls). Packs serious heat.

1. Jan Brewer – Being funny is seemingly unintentional on her part, but still, credit where it’s due.