Another Power Outage

Well, sorry we missed you again yesterday.  We were just in the middle of typing up our post when the power went out again, and we decided to cut our losses and just go home.  So from now on, if it’s during the week and you don’t see a post from us, just assume that the power went out and we’re in the dark.  At any rate, we finished putting up yesterday’s post this morning.

It’s funny to see the way that the Indonesian government advertises itself to its citizens.  It seems that bureaucracies have their own ad agencies, kind of like the US military has.  They do not have advertisements for the Indonesian army or navy here that make war look like a video game–in fact, they don’t have commercials for those at all.  However, they do have ads for two particularly interesting government fuctions: corruption policing and the Indonesian tax bureau.  The first bureaucracy produces commercials that feature SBY talking about how important clean government and transparent business practices are, and these commercials end with the admonition/warning "Don’t mess around with corruption."  The second bureaucracy produces very professional-looking billboards reminding Indonesians to pay their taxes because taxes help to create a prosperous society.  Can you imagine if the IRS sponsored billboards?

And on a slightly related note, you should all read Paul Krugman’s column about Social Security in the NYTimes yesterday, but you should probably ignore all the partisan bluster.

Comments 20

  1. Josh December 8, 2004

    I don’t think it’s unusual at all for US government agencies to advertise. Selective Service does radio spots, PennDOT does traffic safety spots, etc.
    And on a slightly related note, you should all read Paul Krugman’s column about Social Security in the NYTimes yesterday, but you should probably ignore all the partisan bluster.
    Contradictory request.

  2. Josh December 9, 2004

    So I went and read Krugman’s piece:
    “My favorite example of their three-card-monte logic goes like this: first, they insist that the Social Security system’s current surplus and the trust fund it has been accumulating with that surplus are meaningless. Social Security, they say, isn’t really an independent entity – it’s just part of the federal government.”
    It’s stuff like this that makes it patently obvious that what used to be an intelligent and respected economist has been driven completely insane by George W. Bush and will immediately gainsay any proposal of his no matter what the cost.
    In the paragraph quoted there, he simply says that “they insist that the Social Security system’s current surplus and the trust fund it has been accumulating with that surplus are meaningless.” How can he say this without at least trying to explain away why “they” say this, namely, that the surplus is functionally meaningless because it exists only in the form of IOU’s from the rest of the government?
    To read Krugman seriously, you have to take for granted that every single Republican proposal is completely wrong and every single Democratic proposal is completely right, because he never admits even grudgingly that any Republican proposal might be the right path to choose. So either the Republicans are the absolute antithesis of economic reason, or Krugman’s a political hack.
    Which is too bad, because what could potentially be a useful column from an opposing economic viewpoint on the NYT op/ed page has basically become Maureen Dowd with numbers and big words.

  3. Josh December 9, 2004


  4. Sandy December 9, 2004

    OK, so there is a pile of IUOs instead of an actual trust fund for Social Security. Setting aside the fact that future taxpayers are going to have to make good on the IOUs (that means you, Tom and Josh), ‘splain to me how Average Joe, who hasn’t done so well with his 401(k), is going to manage his safety net account. And if all this money is going into private accounts, how are current and future obligations to retirees going to be met? It’s a pay as you go system. So you’ve got to pay a bunch of IOUs and you are also facing declining revenue due to private accounts.
    The Bush administration tax and fiscal policies are hurtling this country to the brink of economic disaster. Devalued dollar and dis-investment in American bonds could put us in a VERY precarious position. Greenspan knows it, you and I know it, why doesn’t the administration know it?

  5. Josh December 9, 2004

    Nobody’s suggesting, I don’t think, that individual accounts get poured into e-trade and let’s see what happens. But even the most conservative investment option makes far more than the return you get on Social Security.
    I appreciate the concern for Average Joe’s 401(k) management abilities, but it hardly seems obvious to me that Congress’ fiscal management is preferable.
    Of course there are transitional costs involved, but the longer we put off reform, the greater those costs become. I’d rather fix it now and reap the benefits of the higher rate of return of a private system than try to clean up the mess a collapse of the system could cause.

  6. Julie and Tom December 9, 2004

    I call “selection bias.” Krugman knows just like I do that there are positions that Republicans (and Democrats) take that do make sense. It’s just that Krugman doesn’t have to write about those. Same thing with conservative columnists.
    So we can’t just dismiss Krugman because he disagrees with the Bush administration.
    Let’s get to the heart of his point. Krugman says that the system is not falling apart at the seams, as many seem to believe. The surplus that the social security system runs is no different from the surplus that any large private company runs for its pension plan. That money doesn’t sit around, it gets invested elsewhere. That’s not a new point, nor does it damage Krugman’s argument. If so, then every company’s pension plan doesn’t make sense. Incidentally, the Federal Government is different from private companies in that it does not get to double-book those investments as profits as well.
    At any rate, Josh, this is Krugman’s point. If you believe that the surplus is meaningless because it gets invested elsewhere, then you also must agree that a deficit is meaningless because other government funds can be invested in it. Well, you don’t have to, but it’s inconsistent not to. Either governments (like regular companies) shift dollars around to shore up weak departments, or they don’t. The decision not to save social security in the event of a future crisis is a political decision. If we can plow zillions of dollars into subsidies for farmers, or cut taxes for the wrong segment of society, or launch preventive wars against Iraq, then we can “save” social security.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for privatization for some aspects of government. But I want my government to be risk-averse, especially for dottering old folks. And the argument that social security must be privatized should be made from the point of view of economic efficiency versus social costs, not because the system is going to fall apart immediately.

  7. Julie and Tom December 9, 2004

    Two more points:
    1. Driving safely vs. not being corrupt are very different kinds of adds.
    2. You know I like my girls a little bit older.

  8. James December 9, 2004

    First off, oxen are bulls with the nuts chopped off. You can oxen lots of things: buffalo, cattle, etc. the key thing is nut-chopping. I’m told you shouldn’t stand behind them when you try this. I’m also told that you shouldn’t verb nouns, like “oxen.” But whatever. Verb this.
    Second off, that’s a totally low blow calling the NYT “Maureen Dowd with numbers and big words.” Maureen Dowd is a whingy bitch. She carps at everything like she’s Bush’s ex-wife or something. Davis Brooks does much better social commentary, and he does clever without making you hate him. Paul Krugman is just a spaz. If he only wore his football helmet, he’d be OK. William Saphire–whether or not he’s a clever linguist–is the real hack on the op ed column, since he says things like Osama would vote for Kerry. Also, he’s a has-been cuz he tried that on Carter back in ’80. And then there’s Thomas Friedman, the only man in America who hasn’t noticed that he isn’t very smart and that William Saphire’s columns on the Mideast are better than his. So the lesson here is clear, kids, Maureen Dowd will oxen you if she has a chance. And David Brooks will tell you why that would only happen in Blue State America.

  9. Tom December 9, 2004

    James (Fichter, Brown) and Josh (Miller, Camp Hill). James, this is probably not the Josh you think it is. Josh, this may not be the James you think it is.
    On the other hand, my bachelor party will be fun.

  10. James December 9, 2004

    Hi, Other Josh. I’m Other James. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Tom, will Maureen Dowd be at the party?

  11. Tom December 9, 2004

    Julie says nix to Maureen Dowd. She doesn’t want to marry an “oxened” guy.

  12. Josh December 9, 2004

    How’s it going, Other James?
    Tom, Krugman certainly has the freedom to choose to write about whatever he wants, but his selection bias leads me to believe he doesn’t have political principles as much as a political party. Sean Hannity, for example, can talk about whatever he wants on his radio show, and he’s not real quick to criticize Republicans or praise non-Zell Miller Democrats, but then again, I’m not going to take him seriously as a result. At the WaPo, Will and Dionne are both partisan, but are both willing to criticize their own parties and praise their opponents, which makes them a lot more credible than Krugman.
    And not to give the dead horse one more whack or anything, but I noted around the web today that Krugman’s “Social Security is fine!” calculations are based on the same sunny CBO figures he derides the Administration for using to calculate the “cost” of the tax cut.
    I was gonna close with a lewd comment about Maureen Dowd, but I don’t want Mrs. Pepinsky to think I’m ungentlemanly.

  13. Tom December 10, 2004

    Josh, I don’t buy it. You shouldn’t attack Paul Krugman for being a Democrat, you should attack him because you think that he’s wrong. His partisan affiliation doesn’t make him wrong, his arguments make him wrong (if he is wrong). The reason why I don’t take Hannity seriously is because he says dumb things, not because he’s a Republican. And I’m perfectly willing to listen to his arguments and disagree with them rather than dismissing them as wrong a priori because of who he is.
    To make things clear, Krugman isn’t guilty of selection bias, you are. You look at his columns in the NY Times, and infer he’s an unabashed partisan. This is because you only are looking at things that he writes to gainsay the administration. You could also look at his career as an economist and find that he is a well-respected economist, regardless of the partisan affiliation of the observer. That he writes columns against Bush policies and misunderstandings of economic principles does not offer a complete sample of his views, and it is a false inference to conclude that you don’t have to take him seriously because of it.
    OK, back to Krugman’s column. I’m confused. Are the CBO’s figures bull, or correct? Because either the CBO is lying about the cost of the tax cut, or lying about the impending doom of Social Security. Which is it?
    I think that Krugman’s larger point is this: you can’t say that Social Security is unsaveable if you believe that governments can shore up weak departments in hard times, which the government apparently does.

  14. Josh December 10, 2004

    Tom, I’m perfectly willing to take each separate Krugman idea or argument for what it is, not who it comes from. But I certainly apply an extra amount of skepticism with hyperpartisan commentators, like Krugman or Hannity. With George Will or EJ Dionne, to use the same examples as above, if I read an item in their column that boosts their side, I take their point of view and bias into account, but assume that they’re making the argument in good faith and that it merits attention, because I’ve seen in the past that their principles are not married to a preference for or against a party or officeholder. With Krugman or Hannity, I approach everything as suspect, because of their prior willingness to twist facts in favor of their side and ignore facts that are inconvenient.
    As for the CBO’s figures, I’m not making a judgment one way or the other, because I don’t even know enough about the subject the refer to, much less the figures themselves, to judge. But it’s certainly another example of Krugman’s dishonesty that he’s willing to use them in whichever context he needs to fit his points.
    As for Krugman’s alleged ‘larger point,’ in the case of Social Security, the argument is not that it’s just going to break, in which case we need to put more money into it, but that its breaking point is just a milestone on its trip to complete insolvency. It’s not that Social Security is going to reach a point where it needs X billion extra dollars so we have to add that, but that it’s going to get to that point by year 20XX and keep getting worse and worse.

  15. Tom December 10, 2004

    That’s probably the difference between you and me. I by no means trust any member of the commentariat to make a point “in good faith.” George Will and EJ Dionne, it seem to me, have an agenda, just like every other politician or commentator whose paycheck depends on the sexiness of their articles. I thought that one of the premises of libertarianism was to never trust anyone with an incentive to lie to you.
    Furthermore, I can’t believe we’re comparing an economist with tenure at Princeton to Sean Hannity.
    I won’t defend Krugman’s choice to use CBO figures as “honest,” but what numbers should he have used? You mean the other, accurate numbers that the CBO publishes? Or should he say that we don’t know anything because the CBO doesn’t give us honest figures? If that’s the case, then why should we think that Social Security is in trouble? The fact remains that someone’s lying to the American people, and I can’t believe that anyone puts up with it. Let’s say you had a company that for four years had put out over-optimistic data on its future earnings, and almost every time they put out that data, they were wrong. Would you invest in it?
    Finally, returning to the larger point, the numbers even that the CBO uses seem to indicate that the problem can be solved. If there is some data out there that shows that the system is bound to be insolvent and is unfixable, then I’m sure that you could write your book proving it. No one–least of all Krugman–thinks that the Social Security system is hunky-dory as it is now, and that’s what you figure out when you read his column in good faith.

  16. Josh December 10, 2004

    Just because I assume Will and Dionne are making their arguments in good faith doesn’t mean I assume that they’re right, or even accurate. I’m just even more skeptical of the hyperpartisan, like Krugman and Hannity.
    Another difference between the two of us, I guess, would be your unwillingness to compare Krugman and Hannity. As far as I can tell, Krugman’s academic career has contributed nothing to his abilities as an op/ed columnist above and beyond what Hannity possesses beyond a marginal edge in technical writing ability. Or maybe you think his breathless predictions of a repeat of stagflation earlier this year were an Ivy League Economist talking rather than a New York Times Political Hack?
    If the CBO’s sunny numbers are right, it just means that Social Security won’t fail for another decade or so longer than some of the estimates.
    And, finally, if Krugman doesn’t truly believe that Social Security is ‘hunky-dory,’ but can be fixed, then why doesn’t he tackle the argument against the structural problems the program has? If the discussion now is over whether the program is fundamentally workable or not, he’s still talking about whether the program is actually going to collapse when some people say it is. Apart from a cheap shot about reform proponents’ alleged desire to see Social Security done away with, he offers nothing in the way of addressing the deeper question.
    And Jesus Christ that beard is the most pretentious piece of facial hair I’ve ever seen.

  17. Tom December 10, 2004

    I see a problem. You claim that Krugman is a hyperpartisan, and use as your explanation the fact that he writes columns that slam the Bush administration. I argue that only looking at his columns is an inappropriate way to approach his economic reasoning because of the rest of his career. You argue that you still get to be more skeptical of Krugman because he’s a hyperpartisan. Not fair, that’s a circle.
    His stagflation predictions were incorrect, true. But to view that as an outright impeachment of Krugman as an economist or even a columnist is hasty. Surely we have higher standards for our elected government than we do for the chattering classes. I ask again, what if you invested in a company that for four years had put out over-optimistic data on its future earnings, and almost every time they put out that data, they were wrong. Would you trust it? Especially given that they’re telling you what they know you want to hear?
    His point, as far as I can tell, is right on the point. The radical reformist argument so far is that it’s falling apart based on in intepretation of the data. He says it can be, and uses their data to show it. And I’m sure, somewhere in his op/ed columns and his voluminous publications, has discussed whether social security is fundamentally unworkable. The fact that he didn’t do it specifically in that column is not his fault.

  18. Tom December 10, 2004

    PS: “That beard is pretentious” sounds a lot like “I just don’t like him” to me.

  19. Josh December 11, 2004

    Tom, that Krugman is occasionally right that the government’s budget office is lying to us is hardly remarkable. As an analogy, whenever Allison and I are watching football, before every attempted punt or field goal, she tells me that they’re going to fake it. Sometimes, they do fake it, and she triumphantly tells me that she called it. It’s no different with Krugman, thinking he’s prescient every time the sky does manage to fall a little bit.
    It’s not just that Krugman was wrong to predict stagflation, it’s that every prediction and analysis he makes is transparently a gainsaying of the Administration. If Bush held a press conference tomorrow and mentioned that real estate is a safe investment in passing for whatever reason, Krugman’s next column would be about the impending crash in the real estate market.
    Being a tenured economics professor at an Ivy League school gives you a lot of credibility. Krugman pissed it all away a long time ago.

  20. Tom December 11, 2004

    It’s not like Krugman is sitting around thinking how smart he is all day, and nobody calls him on it. He’s made a career out of being right (his first landmark paper was in 1979, about currency crises), and he only started being a columnist recently. In a number of famous instances–Mexico in 1994, East Asia in 1997-1998–he was overwhelmingly right. Part of him being a normative economist, like Milton Friedman, is that he tells people that if they don’t change their ways, something bad is going to happen. When they change their ways, bad things don’t happen.
    When you say things like “thinking he’s so precient,” it sounds to me like you just don’t like him. Why? Because he disagrees with the Bush administration? In person, he’s probably a dick, you’re right. They all are. But when you say “every prediction and analysis he makes is transparently a gainsaying of the Administration,” that’s patently false. It’s the selection bias problem again, you cannot infer that he’s a quack when you only read what he says in one context. If you go and read his old stuff from the mid-1990s, especially re: East Asia, he was slamming the Clinton administration too? Does that mean that he was a hyperpartisan Republican then?
    In the end, though, my point is that Krugman’s arguments don’t get any weight because he’s an Ivy League economics professor. Economic arguments aren’t “credible” or not. Joe Schmo could make the arguments and you’d still have to talk about them on their merits. They also don’t lose any weight because he’s obviously a Democrat. You still have to argue them on their merits. When Sean Hannity says something, the fact that he’s a Republican doesn’t make him wrong or right. It’s the same thing.
    If the CBO is lying to us, then why do you listen to them? If the Republican administration repeatedly predicts incorrect economic numbers, and have a well-known incentive to lie to you, why would you listen to them? I don’t get it. If critiquing government policy means that you piss away your credibility, what happens when you lie to the American people, or at best, are so incompetent at economic management that you almost never can predict what’s going to happen next month?

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