"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen


"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister


"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont


"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister


"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, October 05, 2013

GOP fail

Shorting Out The Wiring by Krugman
For the moment, at least, the shutdown and the general scene of insanity in Congress is clearly hurting the Republican brand. And there’s a whole small industry of crunching numbers on the 1995-6 shutdown, etc., to estimate the likely impact on next year’s elections. For now the conventional wisdom is that the impact will be small, not nearly enough to restore Democratic control.

I have no idea whether that’s right. But as I was reading the various news reports, it occurred to me that there’s a subtler but possibly profound form of damage the GOP is doing to itself, one that will cast its shadow for a long time.

It goes back to something Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo used to say — that Washington is, in effect, wired for Republicans. Ever since Reagan, the Beltway has treated Republicans as the natural party of government. Sunday talk shows would feature a preponderance of Republicans even if Democrats held the White House and one or both houses of Congress. John McCain was featured on those shows so often you would think he won in 2008.

And there was a general presumption of Republican competence. It’s hard to believe now, but Bush was treated as a highly effective leader who knew what he was doing right up to Katrina, while Clinton — now viewed with such respect — was treated as a bungling interloper for much of his presidency. Even in the last few years there was a rush to canonize Paul Ryan as a superwonk, when it was quite obvious if you looked that politics aside, he was just incompetent at number-crunching.

But I think the last two years have finally killed that presumption. It wasn’t just that Romney lost — his shock, the obvious degree to which his campaign was deluded, was an eye-opener. And now the antics of the Boehner bumblers. 
Suddenly the old Will Rogers line — I’m not a member of any organized political party,I’m a Democrat — has lost its sting; the upper hand is on the other foot. And that’s going to color narratives and shape campaigns for a long time.

prediction

via Bill McBride who got the non-taper right

Some thoughts from Alec Phillips at Goldman Sachs: Will the Federal Shutdown End with a Debt Ceiling Increase?   
In our view, the most likely outcome of the current fiscal dispute is an agreement that combines an increase in the debt limit and a "continuing resolution" that reopens the federal government. We would expect this to pass no earlier than the end of next week (i.e., October 11-12) and more likely sometime around the Treasury's projected deadline of October 17.

Other outcomes are possible, but we believe they have lower probabilities. It is possible that political pressure to end the shutdown could build, but polling thus far does not indicate this has happened yet. It is also possible that if the effort to resolve the two issues together fails, the shutdown could remain unresolved even after the debt limit has been increased. This is a possibility, but we see it as less likely than a combined continuing resolution and debt limit increase.

The intense public focus on the shutdown may have actually raised the possibility of a "clean" debt limit increase. While the situation could go a number of ways, it still appears that the risk of a failure to raise the debt limit is low and that the shutdown has not had a negative effect on the prospects for increasing it.  
And Phillips also mentions:  
Congress is scheduled to go on recess the week of October 13, but this would presumably have to be cancelled if the debt limit had not yet been addressed. In the past, seemingly intractable political disputes have often been resolved around the start of planned congressional recesses.
emphasis added


Can't miss recess ...

capitulation on shutdown and debt ceiling simultaneously

From the Times, on John Boehner’s position:
The overarching problem for the man at the center of the budget fight, say allies and opponents, is that he and his leadership team have no real idea how to resolve the fiscal showdown. 
They are only trying to survive another day, Republican strategists say, hoping to maintain unity as long as possible so that when the Republican position collapses, they can capitulate on two issues at once — financing the government and raising the debt ceiling — and head off any internal party backlash. 
(via Krugman)

The Republicans Are Starting to Reek of Desperation by Jonathan Chait

Giap

Vo Nguyen Giap dies at 102.

Times obit.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Warm Bodies


Thursday, October 03, 2013

reserve currency

More Which Way Is Up Problems in Washington by Dean Baker
... 
The implication of course is that the United States benefits from being the world's reserve currency. This is not obviously true.  
The increased demand for dollars as a result of being a reserve currency raises the value of the dollar. Higher demand leads to higher prices. (Sorry for the repetition of simple concepts, but there could be some economists reading.) A higher valued dollar makes our exports more expensive to people living in other countries. This means that we will have fewer exports. A higher dollar means that imports will be cheaper for people living in the United States, which means that we will import more goods.  
Fewer exports and more imports means a larger trade deficit and less demand in the domestic economy. That in turn means lower GDP and higher unemployment. This increase in unemployment hits middle and lower income workers especially hard, since they will not be in a position to achieve wage gains during periods of high unemployment. On the other hand, high unemployment and the resulting low wages, could be good for corporate profits and highly paid professionals like doctors and lawyers.  
There is not only reason to believe that having the dollar as the major reserve currency is bad for the economy, it is also contrary to stated policy. Ostensibly the Obama administration has been pushing to have China raise the value of its currency against the dollar. (For the directionally challenged, that means a lower valued dollar.) The line coming from the administration is that we always press China to raise the value of its currency, but they are just stubborn and won't do what we ask. 
Of course if the dollar stopped being the world's major reserve currency then we would likely get what we are ostensibly asking for in our negotiations with China. The dollar would fall in value against China's currency and against the other currencies where many have suspected "manipulation." In other words, ending the dollar's status as the world's major reserve currency would allow us to achieve a lower valued currency, which has supposedly been a major policy goal in negotiations with China as well as some other countries. 
So ending the dollar's status as the world's reserve currency could boast growth and create jobs and would be consistent with longstanding goals of both the Obama administration and Bush administration for ending currency manipulation, but we are supposed to be scared that it could be an outcome from a debt default. Like I said, people doing economic policy are not very good at economics.

debt ceiling clown show: Boehner assures a nervous Republican

Republicans Say Boehner Has Offered Assurances on Default by Ashley Parker
WASHINGTON — With a budget deal still elusive and a deadline approaching on raising the debt ceiling, Speaker John A. Boehner has told colleagues that he is determined to prevent a federal default and is willing to pass a measure through a combination of Republican and Democratic votes, according to one House Republican.

The lawmaker, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said Mr. Boehner indicated he would be willing to violate the so-called Hastert rule if necessary to pass a debt limit increase. The informal rule refers to a policy of not bringing to the floor any measure that does not have a majority of Republican votes.

Other Republicans also said Thursday that they got the sense that Mr. Boehner, who held two meetings Wednesday with groups of House moderates, would do whatever was necessary to ensure that the country did not default on its debt.

Representative Michael G. Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, was one of just 22 House Republicans this year who helped Mr. Boehner pass three crucially important bills — to avert a fiscal showdown, to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and to pass the Violence Against Women Act — with a majority of Democratic support. He said he expected he might be asked to do so again.

“Hurricane Sandy, the fiscal cliff — all of the big votes require reasonable Republicans and Democrats to come together in order to pass it and get it to the president’s desk,” he said. “This will be no different.”

debt ceiling clown show

My bet now is that we actually do go over the line for a day or two. And what ends the immediate crisis is not Republican action but a decision by Obama to declare himself not bound by the debt ceiling. He can’t even hint at this possibility until the thing actually happens, because he has to keep the focus on the Republicans, and he has to make them demonstrate their utter irresponsibility before he can take any extraordinary action.
I think this is why the markets are not freaking. They believe Obama will invoke the 14th Amendment or something.
AV Club review of "The Crazy Place" from The Bridge

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

"Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

Butlerian Jihad
The Butlerian Jihad is an event in the back-story of Frank Herbert's fictional Dune universe. Occurring over 10,000 years before the events chronicled in his 1965 novel Dune, this jihad leads to the outlawing of certain technologies, primarily "thinking machines", a collective term for computers and artificial intelligence of any kind. This prohibition is a key influence on the nature of Herbert's fictional setting.

Herbert may have coined the name from 19th-century author
Samuel Butler, who has the citizens of Erewhon enact a prohibition on machines newer than 270 years fearing that "it was the race of the intelligent machines and not the race of men which would be the next step in evolution."
 AV Club reviews "Nothing to Hide" from Person of Interest

The new organization seems to be for privacy rights and against infringments by either the government or private sector.

Wall Street paymasters won't allow default

Frank Rich on the National Circus: GOP Can’t Impeach Obama, Closes Government Instead
The federal government shut down yesterday after House Republicans refused to pass any budget that didn't defund Obamacare. The president's signature domestic initiative passed by the skin of its teeth in 2010 and survived both a Supreme Court challenge and a national election in 2012. Are you surprised the GOP is staking so much on a fight it has already lost three times?
Not at all. Let’s be clear what this is about: the refusal of a defeated political party to accept the legitimacy of the democratic process when it didn’t get its way. The focus on Obamacare as a means to delegitimize a twice-elected president is just the latest pretext after previous pretexts failed, from the president’s supposedly fake birth certificate to the “Fast and Furious” scandal to Benghazi and all the other would-be impeachable offenses investigated by the House’s Inspector Clouseau, Representative Darrell Issa of California. Think of the Obamacare-driven shutdown as parallel to the Monica Lewinsky–driven impeachment of Bill Clinton: a handy — though ultimately backfiring — vehicle for an attempted right-wing coup against a Democratic president. If the GOP’s real aim was to get government out of Americans’ medical care, it would be resuming its campaign to “reform” (e.g., gradually defund) Medicare, for starters. But you don’t hear anything about that anymore now that the party realizes that its base loves Medicare — so much so that tea-partiers carried signs saying “Keep Government Out of My Medicare!” in ignorance of the fact that it is a program of the government they loathe. So Obamacare is the chosen weapon instead. Unfortunately for the Republicans, it is going to detonate in their own caucus. 
...

So, what will change the equation? Paul Ryan got it half-right when he said yesterday that the battle on tap two weeks from now, over the debt limit, will be “the forcing mechanism to bring the two parties together.” But the parties won’t come together then — the Republicans will have to retreat. The moment the radicals seriously threaten to push America into default and toss our economy and the world’s into an uncharted cataclysm, Wall Street, which still writes far more checks for the GOP than the outside right-wing groups supporting the shutdown, will pull the plug on the revolution.

bullying

‘Carrie’ Is Back. So Is Kimberly Peirce. by Mary Kay Schilling 
Peirce and I had arranged to meet at her friend’s house in Malibu, near where she lived after the success of “Boys Don’t Cry.” We intended to take an early-afternoon walk along the beach, but she forgot to check for high tide, which left us with only a foot-wide strip of sand. So we stood there rather comically, our backs pressed against the wall of the house, two very pale people in excessive clothing on a sweltering August afternoon. Peirce has lived in Los Angeles since 2003, but still regards herself as a New Yorker, which explained her beachwear: red pants, long-sleeved T-shirt, black motorcycle jacket and boots. She reminds me of Swank as Teena: small-boned, gently seductive, androgynous yet pretty — a butch sprite.
...
DePalma’s film is an undisputed horror classic, not exactly crying out for a remake (though Hollywood has never shied from tampering with perfection). But Jonathan Glickman, MGM’s president of the Motion Picture Group, saw two good reasons to do it: The evolution of special effects, and the fact that bullying is now a national, social-media-inflamed crisis. A fan of Peirce’s films, he felt that no one could better capture that teenage moment “where everything matters in such a huge way,” he says.

Peirce was initially surprised by Glickman’s interest in her. “Then I read ‘Carrie’ again,” she said, “and realized, Oh, these are all my issues: I deal with misfits, with what power does to people, with humiliation and anger and violence. Like Brandon, Carrie has gone through life getting beaten up by everyone. She’s got no safe place. And then she finds telekinesis — her talent, her skill — and it becomes her refuge. And I thought, Wow, this is an opportunity to make a superhero-origin story. With her period comes the power. With adolescence comes sexuality, and with sexuality comes power.”

The first thing Peirce did after getting the offer was to call DePalma, who happens to be a longtime friend. “I asked him what he thought, and he says” — here she did her best impression of his New Jersey accent — " ‘Well, you have to do it!’ ” They discussed some of the changes that would have to be made. “I couldn’t cast a 26-year-old, as he did with Sissy Spacek,” Peirce said. “Girls who are 26 don’t look that young anymore.” She ended up casting ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, who recently turned 16, the same age as Carrie White. “You also can’t turn Carrie into a calculated killer — not in a post-Columbine, post-Virginia Tech, post-all-these-campus-tragedies world.” But she wouldn’t have wanted DePalma’s vision of robotic destruction anyway, she said, entertaining as that was. “The pure horror of that disconnected you from Carrie. I say this with all due respect to Brian, but his film is semicampy. I wanted to get inside this girl’s journey. And particularly her bond with her mother, which was huge for me.”

hostage taking

Obama Summons Congressional Leaders to White House 
To many Senate Republicans, the House conservatives’ position has become mystifying. In a meeting of Senate Republicans, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee rose to ask how the party would respond if it controlled the White House and the Senate and a Democratic House insisted it would not finance the government unless Washington rolled back laws hampering unions.

shutdown

Conservatives Have Already Lost Control of the Shutdown Narrative by Noam Scheiber

glitches

Obamacare Glitches Are Real—and Matter Less Than You Think by Jonathan Cohn  
Republicans and their allies are reveling in Obamacare’s implementation glitches. But their solution isn’t to provide people with some easier, quicker, and more reliable source of insurance. It’s to replace a system that has some early, fixable technological problems with no system at all. It’s to stop people from getting health insurance—and take it away from those, like Mr. Stryker, who are already getting it. That's a tough sell.

With every day, more and more people are discovering that Obamacare is a source of security—and a way to get the heath care ethey have always needed. This is the reality Republicans have always feared. Confronted with the reality of Obamacare, rather than the right’s distorted version of it, people will cherish it.


Abenomics and sales tax

Japan Sales Tax to Increase Next Year, Abe Says

Japan’s consumption tax: a test of modern macro? by Simon Wren-Lewis
The common theme here is the importance that modern macro places on expectations of a fairly rational kind. Yet even if you are happy to go along with this, there is an important proviso that does not get emphasised enough. How did consumers know that the budget deficit would be reduced by raising taxes rather than cutting spending? If they had expected the deficit to be reduced by lower government spending, they will not have expected a fall in their post-tax real income. For these consumers the Prime Minister’s announcement will come as a surprise, and they will reduce their consumption as a result.

This argument is completely consistent with consumers being rational and forward looking, as I emphasise
here. All the behavioural assumptions required for Ricardian Equivalence can still be there. What Ricardian Equivalence implicitly does is hold the path of future government spending fixed, but that is an artificial assumption which cannot be true in practice, if only because of political uncertainty. (The argument applies more generally to the small amount of modelling that has attempted to demonstrate ‘expansionary austerity’.)

So we can summarise as follows. If consumption remains on average unperturbed by the sales tax increase (perhaps showing a positive spike before April 2014 which is only partially offset by falls thereafter), then modern macro can pat itself on the back. On the other hand if consumption does take a significant hit, modern macro has an escape clause. Let us hope it does not need it.
Edit: Abe Increases Both Stimulus Spending and Taxes!? What’s Up with That? by Jared Bernstein



"I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

Daddy, Why Do They Hate Obamacare? by Jared Bernstein
Are you reading Ed Porter’s Economic Scene columns over at the NYT? Because you should be—they’re consistently well-crafted, muscular, reality-based, topical arguments on econ current events.

In today’s
column, Porter takes a closer look at a point that you frequently hear these days: why does the extreme right hate Obamacare so much? As I noted the other day, I’ve lately run into people asking me that same question, including my 14 year-old (imagine being a kid trying to make sense of the grown-ups’ world right now…ugh).

A common, and correct, answer to this is that the law expands the scope of government, and once it’s in effect, its beneficiaries will like the security it provides them and their families, making it harder to destroy. Porter adds another important angle to this analysis, by considering more closely who the law will help most and why that matters.

That is, while the Medicaid expansions (in the states that accepted them) clearly target the poor, the subsidies that will make coverage more affordable for those without insurance through their jobs target the broad middle class. And that’s a group that a) has seen persistently negative wage and income trends, b) is the target of few social benefits (e.g., they’re ineligible for Medicaid), and c) is a critical voting bloc.


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

idiosyncratic economics

Not sure what to make of this investor's ideas.


The Rut We Can’t Get Out Of by Daniel Alpert

 

no default prediction

The Shutdown and the Economy by Jared Bernstein
If you think that the extremist wing of the Republican party will have been sated by shutting down the government, or, more realistically, if you believe that the moderate R’s will decide that it’s time to turn off the Cruz control and regain control of the vehicle, then you believe that the shutdown lowers the odds of default.

But if you think this just heightens their blood lust, and the moderates have lost, or ceded, control, then you believe the shutdown heightens the odds of default.

I’m in the former camp—I don’t think we’ll default. But I’m not sure, and you simply can’t over-estimate the recklessness of the House R’s and the dyfunctionality of the current governing process.

Just for fun, and admittedly using made up numbers, let’s say there’s a 15% chance of default, and that this would raise the risk premium on government bonds of the average maturity by 75 basis points (0.75%). The debt held by the public is now $12 trillion (that number is not made up). That means my expected increase in debt service as a result of this dysfunction is $14 billion. If you think there’s a 40% chance of default, you’re at $36 billion.

That’s real money.

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad ended the anti-hero genre by introducing good and evil

Both Walter White and Vic Makey on The Shield were charismatic and exciting - always making ballsy moves - which is what made the shows popular.

positive outlook

No bubble yet in the economy. Private sector sort of chugging along with banks still tight on credit to home buyers. Germany doing well with 5 percent unemployment. They did worksharing. (If the U.S. had rational fiscal policy, we'd be at more like 6 percent. Toss in worksharing and we're at 5 percent.) The Fed hopefully will be headed by Yellen and they will either maintain or improve their management. Hopefully Japan's growth overcomes the sales tax and Abenomics proves so successful that even the skeptics will have to admit it worked - that or they'll twist the explanation of the mechanisms of success to fit their views.

The deficit is no longer a problem in the U.S. Any deficit cutting is merely political (actually it has been with the sequester.) Affordable Care Act takes effect. It's working according to Krugman:
Yes, there may be some negative news stories about the glitches. But Obamacare is not up for a revote. As Jonathan Bernstein says, the only thing that matters is whether it works. And today’s heavy volume is yet another sign — along with abating health costs and below-expected premiums — that it will.
From David Warsh via Thoma:
The responsibility to take care of oneself will have been joined, however loosely, to the long-established right to emergency medical care.

Something like 25 million citizens, more than half of those who are currently uninsured, will enter into a relationship with a medical practice within the next few years. They’ll join more than 250 million Americans who
are currently insured in the biggest undertaking to improve public health since the days of city sanitation and the war on communicable disease more than a century ago.

In many states, collective well-being will begin to improve almost immediately (the initial enrollment period extends through the end of March). In other states, especially those in the Southeast, where Republican governors have dug in against implementation of the law, a more complicated political game will play on. Everywhere, changes within the enormous health care sector, already underway, will gather momentum.

No wonder the fuss is so great.

At first glance, the statute bears a striking resemblance to
mandatory vehicle insurance in the United States. Massachusetts led the way in broadening that market, too, followed closely by Connecticut. In 1925, the Commonwealth required automobile owners to get liability insurance in order to register their automobiles. New York followed suit, in 1956, and North Carolina, in 1957; other states quickly fell in line. Today only Virginia requires no insurance; residents of the state must at least post a $500 bond instead, and an overwhelming majority purchase insurance.
It will become the norm like Medicare and Social Security and it will be improved. The American healthcare system will move toward the international norm for advanced countries with lower costs and a healthier population with more security. Health care costs are driving government debt to the extent that the debt is a problem. With the cost curve bent, health care spending won't crowd out other priorities.

Obama signed Obamacare into law in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012. Scott Brown replaced Kennedy in 2010 as a Massachusettes Senator. Then Elizabeth Warren replaced Brown. Liberal De Blasio looks likely to be the next Mayor of NYC after Giulanni and Bloomberg. Warsh:
On Tuesday the Affordable Care Act goes into effect. It was passed by the Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. The White House holds all the cards. The Defunders, the operating arm of the Tea Party in Congress, are certain to lose if the president remains firm. He should simply state: you don’t negotiate with terrorists.

As if to underscore the point, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), a veteran of the
government shutdowns of 1995-96, told Politico last week that if If the Republicans succeed in shutting down the government Tuesday, “they’ll fold like hotcakes” after a week or two, when constituents begin to complain about the lack of service. “You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot. And we will not for sure shoot this hostage.”

And in the longer term? My guess is that Tea Party dissidents will lose ground in the midterm elections next year; that the GOP will split in the 2016 campaign and that a Democrat will be elected president; that in 2018 the Tea Party will further fade. And by 2020, the Republican governors who are successful in implementing the Affordable Health Care Act will be running for president, strongly, on the strength of their records.
After a week or two Boehner will fold. The consituents will complain. Led by Peter King, moderates revolted and Boehner assured them he'd work it out. With the deficits, debt and Obamacare no longer on the radar and with the economy improving, the Tea Party will fade.

debt ceiling clown show work around - different from 2008

 
The Debt Ceiling Intelligence Test for the Wall Street Boys by Dean Baker
This is an interesting scenario. On the other hand, it is interesting to look at the fundamentals here. The vast majority of bonds that might be used as collateral will not have defaulted. Even the ones that are technically in default will have only lost a small fraction of their value. Think it through. You have a government bond that was supposed to have a coupon payment on October 17th which was not made because of the debt ceiling standoff. How much less are you willing to sell this bond for on October 18th? (If you say 3 percent or more, send me a note.)

While this set of events could possibly undermine the system as it functions today, if the bankers could not develop a workaround pretty quickly, they are a lot dumber than people give them credit for. Remember, this situation is fundamentally different than what we saw in 2008. In 2008 there was trillions of dollars worth of genuinely bad collateral tied to defaulting mortgages, which were in turned tied to houses that had lost much of their value. This was a case where the music stopped and the money really wasn't there. In the current situation, does anyone really doubt that at some point the government will make the interest and principle payments on its debt?

None of this is to dispute that Lowrey's scenario of a financial crisis may not be right. The Wall Street boys really don't seem to be very good with numbers. Put to the test, they may well fail.

MMT

John Quiggin: MMT: Noted by DeLong

John Quiggin: MMT:
My brief summary is that MMT pretty much coincides with traditional Keynesian views in the context of a liquidity trap, but that I reject the claim commonly made in popular presentations of MMT, that increased government spending doesn’t imply increased taxation…. MMT… is based on the idea of functional finance.
What happens… if governments decide that an increase in public expenditure is warranted? Assuming that levels of money creation and debt issue were already set appropriately… there is no obvious reason for them to change. But then… the increase in public expenditure must translate, dollar for dollar into an increase in tax revenue. Perhaps there is an explanation for why an increase in desired public spending would change the settings of macro policy in the direction of more money creation, but if so, I haven’t seen it…. 
There are plenty of examples of governments trying to finance their operations through the printing press, and the outcome is always the same: inflation at first, then hyperinflation, then the end of the currency. Zimbabwe, which now has no currency of its own, is just the latest example. There are various possible mechanisms by which this outcome occurs, but the central point is that the monetary base is typically around 10 per cent of GDP…. Any substantial increase in the monetary base can be sustained only if interest rates are pushed down to low levels, ultimately to zero. And, except in crisis conditions like those of the present, zero interest rates will lead fairly rapidly to inflation in asset prices and ultimately in consumer prices…. 
The higher the debt ratio, the stronger the incentive for the government to default or inflate their way out of trouble, and therefore the higher the interest rates they will face. At some point the capacity to borrow runs out.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad

Cool of Vince Gilligan to fly out to be on the Stephen Colbert show tonight after the series finale last night. Hopefully his next project will be successful as well.

Funny mini-skit at the end of the show, where Colbert has Gilligan chained in a basement-closet and he's barking at him to write more Breaking Bad episodes. "What about Badger and Skinny Pete?!?!" "Did Jesse crash he was driving pretty fast?!?!"

A Clear Ending to a Mysterious Beginning: The Final Episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ Leaves One Question Unanswered by Alessandra Stanley

GOP's Waterloo?

Countdown to Shutdown Think 1996 was bad for the GOP? This time will be much, much worse by Noam Scheiber

credit in housing still overly tight

Opening Up the Credit Box by Jared Bernstein

Breaking Bad

Badfinger, Yo!

Badger: "The whole thing felt kinda shady, morality wise."

Donna Bowman reviews "Felina" from Breaking Bad

Wait a minute: Did no one else find the plot totally absurd?! by Yglesias

In the end, Breaking Bad was a brutal show—about love. by Emily Bazelon

Breaking Bad Series Finale Recap: ‘Do It Yourself’ by Matt Zoller Seitz

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Creating a New Responsibility by David Warsh

(via Thoma)

no bubble

George Will Shoots at the Fed and Misses, Big Time by Dean Baker 
Will is also convinced that the stock market has been artificially inflated by the Fed's quantitative easing and zero interest rate policy. The S&P 500 peaked at over 1550 in the fall of 2007. If it had risen in step with the trend growth rate of GDP it would be over 1950 today, almost 20 percent higher than its current level. For some reason Will never complained about the 2007 stock market level in spite of the fact that it was markedly higher relative to the value of GDP at the time.


Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad series finale tonight. Aaron Paul did a cameo as Pinkman on Saturday Night Live last night in a skit about Obamacare. He talked about Walter White's trajectory.

Ross Douthat wrote a column on it in the Sunday New York Times titled "The World According to Team Walt."
But one thing he hasn’t done, as this weekend’s series finale looms, is entirely forfeit the sympathies of his audience. As a cultural phenomenon, this is the most striking aspect of “Breaking Bad” — the persistence, after everything he’s done, of a Team Walt that still wants him to prevail.
I wonder how prevalent this phenomenon is. I wonder how many fans recognize it's just a TV show and they don't share White's values in their daily life. Douthat is a conservative who professes religious values.  But Walt's values - myself and my family (my tribe) above everyone else where the ends justify means is very much a conservative Republican outlook. See the government shutdown and hostage taking over the debt ceiling. Liberals share Rawls's vision of society where one prefers a society of true equality of opportunity because they believe in a vision where it's as if one doesn't know where one will be class-wise. Progressives favor social insurance because it benefits society as a whole and helps ensure equality of opportunity.

Walt dealing meth is analogous to corporations dealing bad consumer items like tobacco only worse. Granted he did do many things that were obviously criminal and wrong like killling people, especially innocents like Jesse's girlfriend Jane, even if she was threatening his family. He's obviously an anti-hero. The show *is* called Breaking Bad. But Douthat doesn't discuss Jesse Pinkman who did some bad things and has made many poor choices but is more sympathetic. He has a conscience.
..[Walter White] isn’t the product of a lawless environment who never knew another way. He’s a protagonist who made a conscious decision to embrace what society regards as evil, to step permanently outside our civilization’s moral norms.
Walt made many bad choices, but he was at first desperate and dying of cancer. He thought he could get in and out clean; thanks to the drug war which Douthat doesn't discuss there's ample demand fro drugs. But he was mistaken to think that the drug trade wouldn't drag him down and turn him evil, break him bad. Jesse who has more of conscience was driven crazy.
This means “Breaking Bad” implicitly challenges audiences to get down to bedrock and actually justify those norms. Why is it so wrong to kill strangers — often dangerous strangers! — so that your own family can survive and prosper? Why is it wrong to exploit people you don’t see or care about for the sake of those inside your circle? Why is Walter White’s empire-building — carried out with boldness, brilliance and guile — not an achievement to be admired?
Emphasis added. That's Douthat's Republicans who are cutting food stamps which are very small part of the budget, but will hurt people badly. That's societal rot as discussed by Doug Henwood.

I think the vast majority of viewers identify with Hank who wanted to take Walt down. Walt is a very interesting character though, because of the great writing and acting, one who became worse the longer the show went on. Nonetheless he was fun to watch. And he did care for Jesse who was outside his tribe. And Jesse was a person with a conscience whose conscience caused him to have a break down.

And why did Jesse turn to drugs? Badger? Skinny Pete? Part of it is their responsibility and choice obviously, but part of it is the choices available to them. If Jesse had better options maybe as making a living as an artist he could have avoided drugs. Maybe not but may be if society was more prosperous and there was equality of opportunity people wouldn't turn to drugs. Maybe the punitive drug war makes it worse.