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The New York Times Claims Democratic Leaders in Latin America are “Military Dictators”

New Economic Perspectives has the article The New York Times Claims Democratic Leaders in Latin America are “Military Dictators” by William K. Black.

The NYT wrote an extraordinarily arrogant, insulting, dishonest, and hypocritical editorial attacking a series of Latin American democracies. The editorial manages to insult their democratically elected representatives and their electorates.

The editorial claims that it was prompted by the democratic reelection of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia. The editorial concedes that he was reelected in a well-deserved, democratic “landslide.”

“It is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm. During his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly. He has also given the Andean nation, with its history of political turmoil, a long stretch of relative stability.”

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole article, but I am saving a link to it here. I just know that the NYT piece is going to be used as proof by some that the democratically elected leaders are military dictators. I can then come back to this post, read the whole article, and refute what is being said.

Exploding Wealth Inequality in the United States

Naked Capitalism reprints the article Exploding Wealth Inequality in the United States by Emmanuel Saez, Professor of Economics, University of California Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman, Assistant Professor of Economics, London School of Economics. Originally published at VoxEU

I pull a few snippets to give you a hint of the article content.

In other words, family fortunes of $20 million or more grew much faster than those of only a few millions.

When you hear top 0.1% or top 1% or top 10%, it may be hard for you to figure out where you stand.  Putting a dollar amount on the net value of your family fortune gives you a handle on where you stand.  If your family fortune is less than $20 million, you aren’t rich enough to be able  to expect to get much richer.  So now you know which side is your side in the class war.

Since the housing and financial crises of the late 2000s there has been no recovery in the wealth of the middle class and the poor. The average wealth of the bottom 90% of families is equal to $80,000 in 2012 – the same level as in 1986. In contrast, the average wealth for the top 1% more than tripled between 1980 and 2012. In 2012, the wealth of the top 1% increased almost back to its peak level of 2007. The Great Recession looks only like a small bump along an upward trajectory.

So now you can understand why the view of how well the economy is recovering is quite different if you are a Charlie Baker from what you see if you are a Martha Coakley.

There were several interesting graphs, below is the caption to one of them.

Today, the top 1% families save about 35% of their income, while the bottom 90% families save about zero (Saez and Zucman 2014).

Oddly, the authors talk about incentives for increasing savings.  Here is paragraph from the conclusion:

There are a number of specific policy reforms needed to rebuild middle-class wealth. A combination of prudent financial regulation to rein in predatory lending, incentives to help people save – nudges have been shown to be very effective in the case of 401(k) pensions (Thaler and Sunstein 2008) – and more generally steps to boost the wages of the bottom 90% of workers are needed so that ordinary families can afford to save.

If you read between the lines, maybe the authors are recognizing that incentives for saving will only help people at the top of the bottom 90%.  The rest of the bottom 90% don’t save because they are unable to, not because they don’t have motivation that can be enhanced by incentives.

Now back to some things from the body of the article.

Ten or 20 years from now, all the gains in wealth democratisation achieved during the New Deal and the post-war decades could be lost. While the rich would be extremely rich, ordinary families would own next to nothing, with debts almost as high as their assets.

I hear talk that Elizabeth Warren should not run for president until after Hillary Clinton’s term is over.  Since Hillary has a very weak understanding of these issues compare to the strength of Warren’s understanding, waiting another 10 years ordinary families would already have next to nothing or be  very close to being in that situation.

Progressive estate and income taxation were the key tools that reduced the concentration of wealth after the Great Depression (Piketty and Saez 2003, Kopczuk and Saez 2004). The same proven tools are needed again today.

This is a lesson that some young, self-declared Democrats haven’t seemed to learn in their study of history.

BAM! Rachel Maddow drops a truth bomb on Fox News

The Daily Kos has a fundraising page to support GOTV (Get Out The Vote).  To be fair to The Daily Kos, I ought to urge you to follow the preceding link before (or after) you watch this amusing video below.


I tend to squirrel away snippets like this to use when someone challenges me to show a single instance where Faux Noise has ever lied. This is not to say that Faux Noise has a monopoly on shoddy journalism. I just can’t stand it when people try to tell me that Faux Noise is the most truthful news source the world has ever seen.

The Daily Kos article Colorado Station Busts Megyn Kelly for Outright Lying; FoxNews Offers No Correction adds the video below to the mix.


We Are Poor Judges Of Our Own Ignorance

Pacific Standard  – The Science of Society has the article We Are All Confident Idiots.  Turns out that the article is much more interesting than the off putting title and accompanying graphic would make you believe. It would be a shame if people are turned away from reading the article by the very teaser meant to attract them. One might even call that ironic, given the actual content of the article.

As I read the article, I copied down a few snippets that I found intriguing.

Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you.

This reminded me that we should not be smug about how other people fall into this trap.  The title of the article did say that it applied to all of us.

In the classroom, some of best techniques for disarming misconceptions are essentially variations on the Socratic method. To eliminate the most common misbeliefs, the instructor can open a lesson with them—and then show students the explanatory gaps those misbeliefs leave yawning or the implausible conclusions they lead to.

Given my own feelings of the inadequacy of the Socratic method, I was almost ready to dismiss the article.  However, the quote does give a hint that the very implausible conclusions that the Socratic method leads to would insulate you from falling victim to the method.  My first and second impressions were both wrong.  In the end, this issue of the Socratic method is probably only a red flag for me.

For individuals, the trick is to be your own devil’s advocate: to think through how your favored conclusions might be misguided; to ask yourself how you might be wrong, or how things might turn out differently from what you expect. It helps to try practicing what the psychologist Charles Lord calls “considering the opposite.” To do this, I often imagine myself in a future in which I have turned out to be wrong in a decision, and then consider what the likeliest path was that led to my failure. And lastly: Seek advice. Other people may have their own misbeliefs, but a discussion can often be sufficient to rid a serious person of his or her most egregious misconceptions.

This is probably the best lesson you can learn from the article.  Which is not to say that reading the whole article to see how we get to this conclusion isn’t also very worthwhile.

Thanks to João Geada for posting this on his Facebook page.

Halfway There

New Economic Perspectives has the article Halfway There.  It discusses the implications of a NASA study and a WWF study.

If you graph this wildlife population loss, it looks uncannily similar to the graph-line of “Nature” in the HANDY Model: a point is reached where, suddenly, after a steady rise, or a gradual equilibrium, the graph-line of “Nature’s” population changes direction and begins to plummet. What is startling about the HANDY Model is that when this happens, the human populations of “Elites” and “Commoners” continue to rise, crossing the falling graph-line of “Nature.” This is called “overshoot”—the point where the human population begins consuming “Nature’s” resources faster than “Nature” can replenish them. The human population, after some period of “overshoot,” begins (of necessity) to collapse as well. The population of “Commoners” collapses first because the “Elites” are able, for a period of time, to thrive on their “Wealth.” In some iterations of the model, “Nature” recovers after the “Elite” population finally base-lines; in other iterations “Nature” fails to recover at all—the world becomes simply a wasteland, like one of those planets we keep investigating to see if it ever supported life.

This is a food for thought kind of article.  I am not claiming that these studies proved anything, or that we should jump right on it and change our behavior immediately as per the prescriptions in the article. The discussion of no-tillage farming and of a new kind of prosperity were very interesting.

Warren’s Challenge to Clinton

The American Prospect has the article Warren’s Challenge to Clinton: A more insurgent campaign, like the one Elizabeth Warren waged for the Senate, could make Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate by Robert Kuttner. This is an updated version of an article they have previously published (and maybe something I already blogged about).

There is a good analysis of Warren’s possible moves.  Although it does leave out any consideration for what may happen if the Republican’s take over the Senate in 2016.   The ramifications of this possibility were brought up in an article I blogged about in my previous post 6 reasons Elizabeth Warren should run for president.

One of the things that struck me in Kuttner’s piece was the following quote:

Populism is damned in some quarters as demagogic, but there is a progressive brand of populism epitomized by Franklin Roosevelt that mobilizes the frustration of regular Americans against elites, in an entirely salutary form of class warfare. Progressive populism has been in short supply lately.

In my tirades on “the class war” that you will see from time to time on this blog, I am aiming for “an entirely salutary form of class warfare”.  Hence the need to bring this up explicitly.

Not all people in the top 1% are waging class warfare against us.  However, the people who are not waging the war present no significant obstacle to the ones that are waging it.  If we should be so fortunate as to win a couple of battles in this war and start to turn the tide, let us not go off the deep end.  This is not even a war against the oligarchic people.  It is a war against what they are doing to us.  If we  can build in enough protections against the bad behavior like this country did in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II, then there would be no need for further punishment of the oligarchs.

In a casual retelling of the aftermath of World War I, we tried stringent punishment to hold Germany down so that they would not repeat what happened.  That effort totally backfired.  We must not dehumanize our enemies as they would dehumanize us.

War on Terror, War on Muslims?

Al Jazeera has the Empire episode War on Terror, War on Muslims?

Thanks to Andre Nasr for posting this on his Facebook page. I am still not sure how to take his reaction to this video. You may agree with him or this video or you may disagree (for all I know, they could be the same thing or different things), but at least it is a worthwhile attempt to hear what other people think, if you can hear.

Please keep in mind that criticizing the bad acts of some people in your own country has nothing to do with condoning the bad acts of other people in other countries. I’d like to dispense with the argument, “But look at what they do. Doing it back to them is thus justified.”


Elizabeth Warren about Martha Coakley: “Who is on your side?”

Thanks for Carol Goodwin for bringing this to my attention. Martha Coakley’s campaign has the web page Senator Warren asks, who is on your side?

“While Martha was out there, doing the work on behalf of people across this Commonwealth, well what Charlie was doing, largely, was firing people and outsourcing jobs.” -Senator Elizabeth Warren


On the YouTube post, it says:

While Charlie Baker outsourced jobs, Martha Coakley helped save 30,000 homes in Massachusetts. Together, we can set the record straight, on which candidate for governor will spend every day fighting for you and your family. Watch this video and share.


Most people are in denial about the class war that the oligarchs of the world are waging against the rest of us. For those few who are even aware that such a war is going on, some of them don’t seem to know which side is their own side.

For those in the 99% who think they are high enough up that they can afford to ally themselves with the top 1%, they just don’t seem to get how happy the 1% would be to go after the wealth of the 90% to 99%, after they suck all the wealth out of the 0% to 89%. Who do they think is going to stand with them when the top 1% comes after their money?

Boston Globe Endorses Charlie Baker, Forgetting What It Takes To Succeed

The Boston Globe has the editorial Charlie Baker for governor: To move Mass. forward, state government must work better.  I responded online to the editors with the following comments:

Charlie Baker has a habit of finding state agencies that are not performing up to snuff, but he doesn’t fix them. He just closes them and let’s the people who depended on them fend for themselves. The local cities and towns are left to make up for what the state government just stops doing. No wonder the cities and towns are starving for local aid from the state.

The state’s finances look great because the state fobs off its responsibilities on the cities and towns.  You can have a great looking record if you force others to do your job.  The beauty is that if they fail, it doesn’t reflect on what you did.  You can always blame the cities and towns for not being capable.  Maybe nobody will notice that the cities and towns can’t do the job because they can’t collect taxes to pay for the work the way the state used to do before the Charlie Baker’s  came on the scene to pillage the state.  Is this the kind of behavior we  ought to reward?

Charlie Baker’s so called economic plan would be devastating to the state. Here we have a state that has high quality advantages that corporations strongly desire, but Baker wants to compete with other states on price. He wants to give corporations financial incentives to locate in Massachusetts rather than invest our precious tax revenues in enhancing what makes Massachusetts so desirable for companies. Martha Coakley is the first candidate for Governor that I have ever heard understanding that when you have a quality product like Massachusetts, you tout its qualities rather than try to sell it on the lowest price.

Does the Globe try to sell its papers by competing on price with the Herald? Or does the Globe sell its papers on the premise that it is a better product? If you, the editors,  have fallen for the price competition, maybe that is why the Globe is struggling to continue to put out a quality product. No wonder your editors aren’t smart enough to endorse Coakley.

Another comment on the editorial states:

zauberfriend10/26/14 09:48 PM –
This is not your father’s Globe, it’s John Henry’s Globe. Still a great paper. Deal with it.

My response to this comment was:

But John Henry is not going to keep it as a great paper if he decides that cutting costs and prices is the best way to compete for readers. The Red Sox don’t have loyal fans because they sell seats at Fenway for the lowest price.

Charlie Baker claims that he saved Harvard/Pilgrim by making it the best health care company around. Harvard/Pi;grim does not compete on price.  Charlie Baker actually raised premiums. He didn’t compete for the job as CEO by cutting his salary, in fact he tripled it.

So why is Baker so smart because he wants to do state government on the cheap? Not only that, but what revenues the state does collect he wants to pay out to corporations to attract them to Massachusetts. Doesn’t he realize what a quality state Massachusetts is, and that he ought to be spending tax revenues to keep it that way?

If we don’t get online to dispel the fiction about Charlie Baker, then have we really done enough to insure that the state gets the governor that it needs at this time?

Constitutional Gun Control

Jacquelyn Wells unexpectedly started a useful discussion about guns when she announced on her Facebook page that she had joined the NRA.

Jim Glickman posted a link to The New York Times opinion piece Once Again, Guns.

I think we gun control advocates have misdirected our efforts a bit.  Rather than advocate tougher gun purchase restrictions, we should concentrate some of our efforts on trying to control the consequences of mis-handled, but legally purchased guns.

One way to do this would be to pass laws that make gun owners responsible for any damages caused by their guns, whether legally owned or not.

I haven’t heard the details of how the latest high school shooter came into possession of his gun, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were owned by one of his parents in a legally acceptable way including background checks.

One way to make gun owners much more circumspect in how they handle, control, and give access to their guns, would be to make them have some legally recognized liability for the consequences of their gun ownership.

If you knew that you could be fined and possibly sent to prison if your gun fell into the wrong hands and was used to commit a crime, then you would really try harder to make sure such a thing could not happen.  If you knew that you could not own a gun safely enough to protect yourself from this liability, it might give you second thoughts on your need or desire to own a gun.

The really basic problem with gun ownership is not merely restricting ownership to people who seem like they wouldn’t personally use them illegally.  The basic problem is controlling what happens with a gun after its sale.