Monday, June 23, 2014

So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

Get ready, because I am about to use a concept from Basic Calculus to reveal to you Americans out there a lie that you’ve been taught to believe - almost all of you. No matter which party you support, you “know” one thing about their attitudes and behavior... how Republicans and Democrats differ toward deficit spending. Alas, what you "know" is exactly opposite to what is true.

BUDGET-DEFICITLet’s start with the fact that the U.S. posted a $130 billion budget deficit in May and the smallest shortfall for the first eight months of a fiscal year since 2008, as a stronger economy and rising employment bolster revenue. This trend reiterates a core difference between the two major U.S. political parties, when it comes to federal budgetary responsibility.

Okay, here it is:

The crucial 2nd derivative of debt… the pace at which the rate-of-change of the federal deficit is itself changing… either moving toward fiscal disaster or away from it… has been positive (toward accelerating debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration since Eisenhower.

In stark and dramatic contrast - that crucial metric is always negative (deceleration) every year of every Democratic administration.

Let that sink in, because it is diametrically opposite to the rhetoric and propaganda and fulminations that have become accepted “truthy” notions in our minds. So? Are you a slave of truisms? Or are you capable of noticing facts that stare you in the face, and are nearly always true?

Why is the 2nd derivative more valid than - say - looking at the simple size of this year’s budget deficit? Because our fiscal situation carries momentum from actions taken three or five years ago, even a decade. Stepping on the brakes does not instantly stop your hurtling car — it decelerates your rush toward that cliff. The 2nd derivative tells you - almost instantly - whether an administration is at least trying to be fiscally responsible.


Let’s examine the 2nd derivative of debt in action. Have a look at this chart of the US federal deficit as a fraction of the nation’s GDP. Wherever the curve is seen to be turning, go ahead and guesstimate a rough CENTER to that stretch of curve. Of course things are bumpy, so a little subjective smoothing is called for, shrugging off blips. But if, across any 3 to five year span, the center point of your curve lies ABOVE, then the nation’s debt is on a worsening track.


If the center of the curve is BELOW, then there's an improving trend, decelerating an arterial hemorrhage, so that it starts to curve back down, or even moving toward surplus. Think convex versus concave.

Now recall that GOP administrations began in 1969, 1981, 1989 and 2001. Democratic administrations began in 1977, 1993 and 2009. Now go draw your curves, find those center points. It truly is amazing!

Let me reiterate. The rate of rate of change of debt is positive (toward reckless debt) during almost every year of every Republican administration (post Eisenhower). It is negative (building momentum toward prudence) in every year of every democratic administration, (post Johnson).

Now add in this bald-faced fact. That Bush Administration accounting tricks deliberately kept the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars “off the books” for half a decade, letting them finally slam the formal deficit just when economic mismanagement sent the economy into hell, leaving behind a mess that included hyper-velocity debt. In other words, the 2006-2007 “dip” is a lie.

Likewise “Congress controls the purse strings” is a silly excuse. The GOP controlled Congress both for 6 years before Bill Clinton left office and for 6 years after. Yet the 2nd Derivative was negative in the first six and swung sharply positive the very instant a GOP president replaced him, and Clinton could no longer veto the annual Supply Side Voodoo Economics Bill, opening our arteries to the (non) "job-creator caste."

This is not just overwhelming, this rule correlates so perfectly that it seems almost at the level of physical law. Hence, any “fiscal conservative” who supports the GOP - no matter what the rationalization - would have to be either stupid or out of his cotton-pickin’ mind.

== Perspective time ==

I am libertarian enough to want budgets that are relatively balanced. Yes, a small amount of deficit spending is harmless and probably stimulating, especially if spent on national underpinnings like children and infrastructure. A moderate amount can be written off by tipping the scales toward slight inflation. Still, most economists think that a combined national/corporate/personal debt greater than 300% of GDP is in a Problem Zone, and I don't disagree.

On the other hand, we have already seen how bizarre it is for the American right to fetish on debt, when every post-Eisenhower GOP president sent deficits skyrocketing and every demo prez fought them back under control.


But is the United States an especially spendthrift and debtor nation? Look at this chart and you decide. It's possible... just possible... that there are other matters that deserve equal footing on our national agenda. Like problem solving  and becoming a scientific and advanced nation again.

And putting people to work preventing 60,000 defective bridges from falling down.

== The underlying agenda? ==

In fact, the current U.S. budget shortfall would be well in the safe zone, were it not for the lingering Bush tax cuts for the uber-rich (and residual effects from Bushite wars). It would be one thing if Supply Side assurances (“the cuts will pay for themselves as job-creators invest!”) ever came true… even once, in the decades since the Laffer Cult sprouted. But that voodoo never came true. Ever. Not one prediction. Even once. But it is still pushed. Wonder why?

== The oligarchs step up ==

In what might have been a scene taken from the pages of EXISTENCE, 250 individuals flew into London for a conclave of the world's richest people and estates, with the formal agenda of preventing revolution by making capitalist societies more inclusive.  Their combined assets, estimated at $30 trillion — amount to roughly one-third of the total investable wealth in the world. If money is power, then this is the most powerful group of people ever to focus on income inequality.

The titans of commerce and finance didn't necessarily fly to this meeting in London out of a sense of ethics or moral duty, though that may be a motivation for some. For many, says conference organizer Lynn Forester de Rothschild, it's a sense of self-preservation. Capitalism appears to be under siege.  "It's true that the business of business is not to solve society's problems," she says. "But it is really dangerous for business when business is viewed as one of society's problems. And that is where we are today."

Question: were there meetings behind the open meetings, as I depict in fiction? Well?  Do any of YOU out there, reading this, happen to know?

Here’s the deal. These are the good billionaires! Here’s another secret confab, one that is endearingly free of any “help the world” rationalizations: Secret Summit: 24 Hours with the Koch Brothers.

== Ah, statistics… ==

Okay. If you can’t beat em…

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling (ie Hookers & Blow) will be part of Italy’s GDP as of 2014, and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

== And finally, the Big Lie propaganda about the American Revolution ==

Franklin-taxSaid Ben Franklin: Note I have removed the Franklin "quotation" of dubious provenance.  Still, the cited article is interesting.

The notion that the American Revolution was somehow against “government” and “taxation” in general, and not - as all the Founders said - against oligarchy and rule by monopolists and feudal lords - is among the most hilarious conflations and orwellian propaganda campaigns of our lifetimes.


Doug S. said...

Read the updated version of that blog post you linked to at the end. The Franklin quote is probably fake.

Anonymous said...

Just one point.... you missed the key. You looked at presidents and not the House. When Newt came into power Clinton started his dive. When Pelosi came into power Bush had his acceleration. Likewise when Boehner got control of the house in 2012, Obamas spending drops..... so if we look at control of the house, then how does this map look? Like democrats are big spenders.
But you know as well as I do that historically the president loses the house as he loses power.

Brad Handley

Tony Fisk said...

Your thesis is playing out in Australia as well.

From an estimated $26 billion deficit in December, Hockey managed to deliver a $60 billion deficit on budget night six months later. Nor was it due to the after-effects of ALP economic mismanagement. It was due to Hockey, as not only the ALP pointed out, but the IMF as well.

It goes on. The Libs persist in the ideological objective of repealing the carbon tax and abolishing the Renewable Energy Target (RET), despite economic analyses showing that doing so will have little beneficial effect on electricity prices and jobs creation. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Rant time: In what I view as a stunning example of rhetorical projection, my local Lib MP (for whom I've had some respect till now) recently referred to the beneficiaries of the RET as 'REnT seekers'.

Are we talking about the 1.1 million households seeking to rent the solar panels on their roofs to utilities? I suppose it's possible. After all, it has also been occasionally mooted that utilities should be able to charge people for collecting rainwater from their rooftops.

Marx once said that, to be profitable, the worker must control the means of production. I guess oligarchs feel the same way.

David Brin said...

Typically, Brad Handley responds without reading. Or else he would have seen this paragraph in the article:

"Likewise “Congress controls the purse strings” is a silly excuse. The GOP controlled Congress both for 6 years before Bill Clinton left office and for 6 years after. Yet the 2nd Derivative was negative in the first six and swung sharply positive the very instant a GOP president replaced him, and Clinton could no longer veto the annual Supply Side Voodoo Economics Bill, opening our arteries to the (non) "job-creator caste."

But sure, avoidance of outcomes appraisal has reached frantic, religious proportions on the entire right. (In fairness, it is also rampant on the far-left.)

Name one unambiguous statistical metric of US national economic, social, scientific, fiscal or middle class health that improved across the span of any recent GOP tenure in power.

You cannot name more than a couple that did not plummet. The outcomes were almost universally disastrous. And those include conservative metrics such as near total destruction of US military readiness.

So instead? Rationalizations!

Hank Roberts said...

well yeah; no surprise to those who've been watching -- after all, who owns the debt?

Owning 'debt' pays a reliable longterm income a lot more reliably than woodcutting or sheep farming or wiring houses or writing code. And debt doesn't get eaten by moths or dried out by hot weather or get sick and cost you money.

Michael said...

Yeah, sadly that doesn't actually appear to be an actual Franklin quote - the updates to the blog post are quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the purse strings bit... I'd actually be inclined to think the correlation is tied to whether Congress and the President are controlled by the same party. When they are the same, it seems to get worse. When different it seems to get better. The party doesn't matter.

Joe D said...

From 2010-13, when the effective ten-year T-bill rate was negative, we should have been spending as much money as we could shovel through Transportation and Commerce to repair those bridges and upgrade energy infrastructure to better deal with storage and transmission of renewable energy.

But the nation's creditors (and, despite the cries of "China! China!" you know who they are) didn't want to pay for the privilege of lending this money, so all you heard was "Deficits! Inflation! Zimbabwe!"

Friction Screw Presses said...

Read the updated version of that blog post you linked to at the end. The Franklin quote is probably fake

Hank Roberts said...

… the modern world has actually converted debt into wealth. Positive wealth, in the form of physical assets such as land, houses, cars, etc. is ultimately perishable, but negative wealth (i.e. debt) need not be so. In fact, it is much more convenient to own 'debt' than physical assets:
"… the ruling passion of individuals in a modern economy is to convert wealth into debt in order to derive a permanent future income from it -- to convert wealth that perishes into debt that endures, debt that does not rot, costs nothing to maintain and brings in perennial interest" (p.423). They explain further: (p.424) "Although debt can follow the law of compound interest, the real energy revenue from future sunshine, the real future income against which debt is a lien, cannot grow at compound interest for long. When converted into debt however, wealth discards its corruptible body to take an incorruptible one. In so doing, debt appears to offer a means of dodging nature, of evading the second law of thermodynamics, the law of randomization, rust and rot. But the idea that all people can live off the interest of their mutual indebtedness is just another perpetual motion scheme -- a vulgar delusion on a grand scale."

Daly H. and J. Cobb, 1994, _For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment and a Sustainable Future_, Beacon Press, Boston

Alfred Differ said...

As I understand it, rent seekers are those who would alter regulations to secure their economic advantage. Instead of demonstrating the success of their approach in the open market, the alter the market rules until the approach is a success.

Are beneficiaries of RET such people? If so, the libs have an understandable ideological objection no matter what the alteration of the rules will do to electricity prices.

Paul451 said...

Re: Mr. Laffer's Curvaceous Cult

There's nothing wrong with the basic idea of the Laffer Curve. (*) It's obvious that revenue would zero at both zero tax and 100% tax (**), therefore in between there must be a highest point of revenue, an optimum tax rate. The idea of the Curve itself says nothing about whether a particular tax system is at its optimum, it doesn't say which side of the slope you are on. (And reasonable economic analysis by the CBO suggests the US is well on the zero-side of the optimum.)

The problem is that people who are part of the "Laffer Cult" don't actually seem to accept the idea of an optimum tax level that's above zero. The ignore their own proclaimed theory that there's a peak, an optimum.

(* The first thing wrong in the Laffer's idea is that he treats "tax" as a single entity with a single optimum, whereas different taxes are likely to have individual optimums, and different mixes of taxes will interact to produce different optimums again. The second thing is that is created the Cult.)

(** Well, not quite. The only way you could really have 100% tax is with pure communism, where the government owns the entire means of production. So in such an economy, "government revenue" would be measuring something different than money-from-taxes, such as the labour input into government owned/controlled industry, which would (no matter how inefficient pure communism) be higher than zero.)

"rent seekers are those who would alter regulations to secure their economic advantage. Are beneficiaries of RET such people?"

My quick and dirty rule for spotting "rent seekers" is whether the people lobbying to alter regulations are those who primarily/solely benefit economically from the change. In the case of RET, the advocates were greenies, not the hundreds of small solar panel companies who sprang up after the scheme was introduced. Whereas the opponents on RET and the advocates of its destruction were the coal-fire power companies and the owners of the coal mines.

[The focus on regulations when defining "rent seeking" misses the point of what is being sought. Better to look at the original "rent seekers", the land owning aristocracy who live off the work of tenant farmers rather than off their own production. They owned the land by regal fiat. Pretty much by definition it's impossible for the masses (millions of solar panel owners) to be "rent seekers".]

Owning debt, like owning savings, is a currency asset. It can be "destroyed" by currency inflation. And income from that debt, or from savings, can be reduced by taxation. So when the oligarchs' primary assets are debt, is it any wonder their paid-men focus almost exclusively on policies of reducing inflation and taxation, to the point of virtual hysteria when anyone suggests otherwise.

Alfred Differ said...


I think your aristocrats were just one example and probably the textbook example at that. As a voter, I am aware that my choices when combined with a majority can alter the market rules in my favor, so much like with regal fiat, I can secure an illiberal advantage.

I'm not trying to defend either side of the debate in Australia and wouldn't dream of trying to do so. What I'm pointing out is that the libs objection makes sense AS an ideological objection and not a just a smoke screen for their economic advantage. Being an outsider to their political situation might help here because there are some things on which all classical liberals tend to agree. One of those is that rent seeking in any form is a BAD IDEA because the rules required generally pick winners in the market. It is better to let the market pick winners by itself if at all possible.

Howard Brazee said...

Two points to add:

1. Most all Big Businesses borrow. They think it is good business.

2. The charts should be related to who controls Congress - with a year delay. The president doesn't tax and spend, Congress does.

Duncan Cairncross said...


"2. The charts should be related to who controls Congress - with a year delay. The president doesn't tax and spend, Congress does."

That is "the theory" unfortunately a look at the data shows a correlation between the party of the president NOT the party in control of congress

A perfect case of "theory" being slain by fact

The data is clear - David proposes that the mechanism is by presidential veto (or threat of veto) on the worst of the GOP nonsense

The data supports this hypothesis as it rejects the theory that it is congress

madtom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
madtom said...

Dr. Brin, I believe that outcomes really do matter more to you than rhetoric. So I hope that you will reexamine the basis of this discussion.

From my viewpoint, its premises and its very vocabulary are tendentious distortions that can lead only to false conclusions. And false conclusions lead to bad outcomes. Such as traversing again the futile rhetorical circles so familiar to us all, while in the real world we all live suboptimum lives.

I give you top marks for being highly intelligent, well educated, very effective in what you do, and a man of good will, which is why you have long been at the top of my favorite science fiction authors list. But . . .

Please think more deeply, as an independent researcher should, rather than accepting the limited vocabulary and concepts commonly seen in discussions of these topics.

Please think of economic activity and its interaction with money as a process, a system, before considering the usual arguments about it. I believe that if you constructed for yourself a flow chart for money, so you can envision as a whole its trajectory, its interactions and the outcomes thereof as a system process, you would be surprised to find that your best picture is not well represented by the usual rhetoric or the vocabulary used to discuss these matters. In fact, the picture you would construct would reveal conventional thinking to be comically or pitifully distorted, like a theological argument from centuries ago.

Please notice that I am not urging any particular conclusion, or supporting any side of this discussion. Just urging reconsideration - from a neutral starting point - of the entities and processes being discussed, and their real-world interactions, using system concepts rather than a terminology that is already overloaded with emotion, self-interest and group affiliations.

Unknown said...

David you can prove anything you want with statistics, but do you really think you prove your hypothesis with only 6 data points. The rhetoric is truly amazing, as I would only expect from one of the greatest authors I have ever read, but using "calculus" on a 2-D chart with the limited sample set, to prove your conclusion is statistically signifigant, seems to be stretching math a little bit farther than it should go. It seems obvious that even though you call your self a libertarian, you have an axe to grind in regards to the GOP. It's ok, but maybe a more dicriptive tag of "not a Dem, but mostly anti-conservative" would be more truthfull. I do respect your ability to spin a yarn, but hiding core political beliefs behind shoddy "new math" like this example not only does not actually convince anyone to change their own current beliefs, but rings hollow to your cause. Even you knew this becasue of the qualifiers you put in. This chart is not just, not-self explanatory, being clearly labelled so that anyone could see the direct relationship you are trying to reach, you have to say well, you have to ignore this, and that, and take this into consideration. BAH!
You are trying to take something that is very much multi dimensional with literally hundreds of variables, and convert it into a Tweet. I must say you did a very poor job here. I expect better from the Uplift author.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Clare

If I got six out of six I would call that a pretty definite result,

David was referring to debt reduction/increase,

I have seen a similar graph of growth during presidential terms
(Before the great Bush recession)

Same results -
Only more so
The lowest growth under a Dem was higher than the highest under a GOP

With the additional information that for presidents with two terms the GOP always had lower growth on second term
And the Dem had higher growth on a second term

None of which is surprising when you look at simple economics

Dems tend to move money downwards
GOPs tend to move money upwards

The poor (down) spend all of their money
The rich (up) don't

This means Dems make the economy grow faster

All counter to the "wisdom" of business friendly GOP

Do you have the raw data for your graphs?

Alfred Differ said...

I think the strength of the correlation may depend on exactly how one calculates the derivative. I get the point of using the 'compass' method for a best fit circle and how the radius of the curve relates to the second derivative, but a slope of a slope technique can be used too and be less dependent upon human eyeballs. That approach tends to fold future data in with past data, but that's not an unfair way to represent the way Congress' budgets don't play out right away. When I do it that way I see the second derivative go negative in 1991, 2002, and right near the 2008 election. It's also negative for three of Reagan's years and went positive during Carter's term.

When I see a statistical claim that depends upon the method used to reduce the data, I get suspicious with respect to supporting narratives. I don't necessarily cast them out, but I start fishing for alternative ones. For example, the recession of the early 80's can be explained fairly well by Fed increases in the interest rate demolishing GDP growth. That reduces the denominator and should send the first derivative positive shortly after the second derivative goes positive. That's essentially what the data says, so that narrative fits well enough to consider as an alternative for that event.

David Brin said...

MadTom, everything you said is generally correct, and I am left to ask... so?

Do you honestly believe that the reasonable half of a great nation can be fooled into pulling back from the New American Civil War, buy yet again and again and again trying to shame us with reasonableness?

Please dig it. We are waking up to the fact that the other half of the country only uses this as a tactic and is not even remotely interested in reasonableness.

Do you know the concept of burden of proof? It is not up to us to prove Climate change beyond a shadow of a doubt, before taking reasonable measures that (without destroying the economy) help to prepare, just in case 99% of those who actually know the Navier Stokes equations and cellular atmospheric models turn out to be right.

It is not reasonable to demand that the 99% be made 99.9% , before any action is taken based on expert opinion. No, the burden of proof in such conditions falls upon those who demand that we sit on our hands.

Likewise, the obfuscates can repeat Supply Side "economics" slogans forever. But when SSE has ZERO record of EVER having made a successful perdition of outcomes, the burden of proof is on them, not upon the flawed but often-right Keynsians.

Name for me one unambiguous statistical metric of US national or economic or middle class or even military health that could be both attributed to GOP policies and that markedly improved across the spans of either Bush administration. One... at all. Nearly all such metrics plummeted - and steeply - across the span of both Bushite regimes.

If you cannot name for me even one positive outcome, then who has a burden of proof? Sure, we may not be able to "prove" that the nearly universally horrific outcomes from Republican rule happened BECAUSE of Republican rule. WE DON'T HAVE TO. The reasonable Occam's Razor starting point is that the burden of proof falls upon those suggesting we should ever, ever, ever again trust the GOP with a burnt match.

So? Sure, my little graphic does not "prove" a damn thing. I don't have to! The burden of proof falls upon any one who henceforth tries to maintain that Republican talk about fiscal responsibility is anything more than a Goebbels level Big Lie.

The same holds for Border Protection (democrats patrol it better and reduce illegal immigration while republicans slacken and foster it.)

And military readiness (democrats raise it and republicans destroy it.)

And de-regulation of excessive government bureaucracy. Democrats abolished the ICC and CAB and freed the Internet. Name for me one industry... other than Wall Street banking... that the GOP ever deregulated.

Stop "reasonably demanding burdens of proof in the wrong direction. How about reasonably demanding reason from those who consider reason and logic and science and negotiation and pragmatic compromise and adult behavior to be sin.

sociotard said...

Okay, spreadsheet fun is my kind of fun.

To clarify the rules:
1) Post Eisenhower. 1961 and on.
2) The data is a past-three-years average of the second derivative of the deficit. positive numbers bad.
3) since we are averaging, we will only look at numbers beginning on the third year of a party swap in office (thus, we see the number for 2011, because that is an average of Obama's first three years, but not 2009 or 2010, because those had averages including Republican years)

(If you'd like, I can put this up as a google doc so we can look at the same durned thing? I'll even open it up so you can modify it too.)

We see negative (good) second derivative deficit in 1973-1974, 1984-1989, and 2004-2007. (you already pointed out the problem with that last)
1st Quartile-0.35
3rd Quartile: 0.46

We see positive (bad) second derivative deficit in 1963, 1966-1968, 1980, 1999-2000.
1st Quartile:-0.34
3rd Quartile:0.17

Don't dance too fast though, because I'm not done.

You did look at what the second derive did when which party controlled congress, but that is the wrong question.

The question is, did the congress oppose the president?

So I filter again:
For all the times Congress was controlled by the President's party:
1st Q:-0.5
3rd Q:0.66

Look at those big (positive) numbers. The median is close to the Republican one, and the 1st and third quartiles are much worse!

For all the times Congress was not controlled by the President's party:
1st Q:-0.31
3rd Q:0.22

We see these are very close to the Democratic numbers.

(yes, these last two I cheated. The numbers are still averaged, but they do include all years, not just ones where there the situation had maintained for 3 years.)

Even So:
The moral is: it might not be that Democratic presidents are thriftier. It might just be that they are more likely to wind up with obstructionist congresses that won't let them spend money

David Brin said...

All of the above... and a double BAH!... holds for ClareR.

Once again, Name for me one unambiguous statistical metric of US national or economic or middle class or even military health that could be both attributed to GOP policies and that markedly improved across the spans of either Bush administration. One... at all. Nearly all such metrics plummeted - and steeply - across the span of both Bushite regimes.

I do not feel spite toward "conservative" values, but toward monsters who have hijacked Barry Goldwater's once-intellectual movement into the worst know-nothing cult in US history.

No one online touts Adam Smith more than I do, or that vast creative value of competition in human affairs. I know who squelched free markets across 6000 years... do you?

David Brin hates the undead elephant that the GOP has become, principally because it betrays the nation and world and children I love, spurning science and negotiation and pragmatism and reason.

Prove to me that I am wrong about that.You cannot find a single counter example. They are the New Confederacy. Only this time, they know better than to secede. They are wrecking our house-divided from within.

David Brin said...

Sociotard and Alfred... thanks for proving that this Contrary Brin blogmunity is not composed of Yes-men!

Okay, all good and intelligent points. Indeed, Carter appointed Volcker to fix the inflation with tough love and lost the presidency as a result. Obama would spend more, if he could. But Clinton genuinely budgeted for surpluses -- which were easier amid dot-com era.

See? I know there's complexity. And yet, we must fight this battle with weapons for our time. And a jpeg on facebook is (alas!) the only way to get attention from the benighted and dullard boomers.

Btw: there's this --

Jobs have grown an average of twice as fast annually under Democratic Presidents than under Republican Presidents
Nine of the last ten recessions have occurred under Republican presidents.
Republican presidents' deficits are twice as large as Democrats' and nearly twice as high as a percent of GDP.
GDP grows 52% faster under Democratic presidents.
Businesses invest more than two times as much under Democratic presidents.

Joel said...

From FoxNews:

"Tea Party leaders told Fox News early Wednesday that McDaniel campaign operatives had been up all night weighing whether to challenge the results on the grounds that Democratic voters allegedly crossed over from the Democratic primary to vote for Cochran. Under Mississippi law, voters in one party's primary must intend to support that party's nominee in the general election."

Wait? Have you been participating in Mississippi politics recently?

Acacia H. said...

Here is the thing to consider: If Bush and the Republican Party were so adamant about reducing deficits then why did they engage in a war in Afghanistan and then double the war by invading Iraq... ignore military advisers and alienate both peoples in those nations by cozening up to corrupt mid-level leaders and put them in charge... and obfuscate the cost of the wars?

If Bush had done the responsible thing and raised taxes only so far as to fund his war, then the deficit wouldn't have been in dire straits! We might have had something close to surpluses! But Republicans didn't. Instead, they funded a war with debt.

And then they screamed bloody murder when Democrats tried to use debt to dig America out of the morass that was the global financial crisis.

Here's another example that proves Republicans don't give a shit about the American people - Austerity. They cried about the need to get the deficit in control... and want to do so by slashing non-military spending. But outside of Tea Party Republicans (which are a faux-libertarian offshoot that mainstream and leadership Republicans fear and despise) the Republican Party cries bloody murder when Democrats say "then let's balance cuts with cuts to military spending."

In essence the Republican Party is saying "fuck the American people. We're here for corporate America only. Let's save the corporations and let the people starve. Oh, and let's fund the police and militarize them so they can put down the inevitable riots from starving Americans."

I do not like Democrats. I don't trust Democrats. But while Democrats are corrupt, lazy, and prejudiced, they are a hell of a lot better for America than the Republicans are. Admittedly this is "death by burning house" or "death by carbon monoxide poisoning" but one death is extremely painful and can still take a long time.

Rob H.

matthew said...

Regarding Mississippi, it's almost like the African-American voters there heard all those Tea Party dog whistles about race and decided to punish the movement. Golly. What will ever happen next?
Seriously, some of the reactions to Cochran's win over at Red State are worth reading, just for the amazement value.

David Brin said...

Veddy eeenteresteenk: "Women who naturally conceive their last child after age 33 tend to live longer than those who have their final child by age 29, according to a new study by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine."

Alfred Differ said...


I composed exactly one of those FB jpegs you describe and then felt dirty enough that I need a shower and a good scrub with a wire brush. 8)

You are welcome to compose your own propaganda, of course, but I think your gift with the pen and story will accomplish more. I think some of your shorter works are quite chilling, so I suspect you could skewer the neoconfederates if you so choose.

Alfred Differ said...

It would be very interesting to watch McDaniel challenge the voting laws there. I could see the case needing both federal and state attention.

In the recent CA primary I occasionally chose the second person I would want for an office because I knew who was likely to win from one party and wanted a say in who they ran against. The person most likely to win wasn't necessarily the one I wanted, though, so I wasn't trying to set up a loss for their likely opponent. Any court decision that took this opportunity from me in the future is one I'd view as partially depriving me of my right to vote by making my vote less effective, so that's what I would find interesting in Mississippi.

madtom said...

Dr. Brin, the answer to your question “So . . .?” is that I’m responding to your title and aiming at outcomes rather than rhetoric by advocating a critical look at the rhetorical battlefield itself.

The discussion so far has been the same type that got America into its current predicament, as productive as WWI trench warfare.

In no way are your facts wrong, and I confess that I wholeheartedly share your political positions. But I want to see a stalemated, both-sides-are-losing battle examined afresh. I am convinced that our common goals are not nearly as different from those of our political enemies as both sides are led to believe. For led we are, both naturally (vide Bloom’s “The Lucifer Principle”) and as a political tactic profitable to those who *manage* our problems rather than *solving* them.

Have you read Joe Bageant’s work? In this political battle, the opposition troops are our fellow citizens. They are our neighbors, the people who fix our teeth and fix our roads, and who drive on those same roads, who vote in the same elections, and who help determine by their consumer choices what we will find on the grocery shelves. Do we really want to excel in a game of who can despise the other the most?

You’re right that polarization is so extreme that one side denies easily established facts. Hating this irrationality may be quite natural for us, but I think that rational analysis shows hatred to be counterproductive in terms of our personal goals.

So . . . I am advocating a second look at the polarization and the terminology that helps drive it. Every day I see political discourse undermined by perversions of language, and deliberately crafted misconceptions about (for instance) money, how the government takes it and spends it, and the national debt.

What *is* money? What purposes does/should it serve? How is money created (and destroyed?), when, where, and by whom? Who bestowed this phenomenal power? Why? When? Are there alternatives to the current practices? Or must we forever battle from the same trenches, shouting slogans about debt, commies, rentiers, national debt, welfare state, welfare Queens, personal responsibility, balanced budgets, etc.?

I suggest that calling a timeout in the use of conventional slogans and terminology, metrics and emotions, while we examine the basics is a way to suspend the polarization for a moment.

I suggest that people of goodwill would then discover some truths that would long since have been obvious but for the heat and smoke of this contrived battle.

I hear you say: this is the battle that is going on right now, so we need to fight to win.

But if you were stuck in the cold mud of a WWI trench, yet could communicate with other soldiers on both sides, would that be your response? In reality, WWI produced many stories of sympathetic human interactions between the soldiers in opposing trenches, despite having been forced there by their leaders to kill each other. I hope for something similar in America’s trenches, leading to a very constructive outcome.

Consider the alternative.

Howard Brazee said...

I was playing golf today, and my partner told me that hindsight was 20-20. So I pointed Dick Cheney out to him, and he modified his position.

Paul451 said...

Time lapse panoramic videos of the night sky. Where the sky seems to swim under the distortion from the panoramic warping. Includes some of those "Little Prince" type panoramas, which are particularly effective against a time lapse sky.

Must watch.

LarryHart said...


For all the times Congress was not controlled by the President's party

"Contol" of congress is more complicated than a simple yes/no binary. A party with a simple majority in both houses can control the legislative agenda, but a 41% minority in the Senate can block legislation and nominations. President Obama's first term had a Democratic-controlled congress by any reasonable definition, and yet while the Republicans couldn't proactively do jack s###, they could obstruct anything they wanted to.

Bush had a 50/50 split Senate with Dick Cheney as the tie-breaker until Jim Jeffords switched parties and gave the Dems a slim majority, and I honestly don't remember the House makeup of those two years. I do know that Reagan had a GOP-majority Senate and a Dem-majority House for at least two years during his presidency.

So again, it depends on what the meaning of the word "control" is.

Even So:
The moral is: it might not be that Democratic presidents are thriftier. It might just be that they are more likely to wind up with obstructionist congresses that won't let them spend money.

Well, if you're interested in outcomes moreso than ideology, that might still count as a good reason to vote for Hillary.


The thing is, it's no coincidence that Republicans borrow and spend like drunken sailors on their own watch and then scream about the evil of deficits when Dems take the floor. It's a stated strategy called the "Two Santa Claus" theory. Thom Hartmann talks about it quite frequently.

David Brin said...

madtom, you are right. We differ hardly at all. Indeed, watch this to see just how thoroughly and rabidly we agree!

Alas, you cannot negotiate when a “side” has talked 100 million of your fellow citizens to relish a rabid state of war.

“Isuggest that calling a timeout in the use of conventional slogans and terminology, metrics and emotions, while we examine the basics is a way to suspend the polarization for a moment.”

Terrific! It is the sort of thing we do, now and again, in this, one of the oldest and best blog communities on the web. Indeed, I have a whole scoopit of articles re-examining economics see:
rticles and speculations by David Brin about Taxes, economics and markets...

Indeed, please become a regular.

Nevertheless… I think your pleas may be like Abraham Lincolns, after the election in 1860. Appeals to reason will not do much good except nibbling away at the edges of a noxious insanity.

Jumper said...

Alfred Differ said...

Pleas of Abraham Lincoln? Hmm... 8)

There are days when I think the best use for the second amendment is keeping us armed in such a way that we occasionally shoot each other on a small scale (city sized riots and such) and avoid the larger scale violence that has been the historical norm in other parts of the world. We haven't completely avoided mass murder designed to determine political outcomes, but we are relatively good at dealing with our heterogeneous beliefs and we got this way through practice.

I honestly don't think we will start shooting each other over what is happening now. We have many more decades of practice releasing our anger in smaller amounts. For example, I have a friend that would like to have his state do what Lincoln prevented over ACA, but I respectfully pointed out that my side was still willing to shoot his side to prevent it and for heaven's sake please don't wake us up to the realization that we might have to do it. That's the angle I take with them all now. Yes... we will shoot you. Please... find another way. That usually turns the conversation a bit and leads to discussion of why it might be WORTH shooting them.

David Brin said...

Alfred, Canadians are managing to not kill each other at EITHER large or small scales....

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Quite true. It might help that there are fewer of them, but I'm probably guilty of oversimplifying things when I say that.

Our neighbors have found an alternative method for coping with a heterogeneous society.

There are also days when I think we should disarm ourselves completely and limit ourselves to more old-fashioned forms of violence, so I'll admit my thoughts on this are not well formed. At the root of all this, though, is my conviction that we are a vulgar (old sense of the term) nation with noble aspirations. European noblemen weren't all that nice to each other either, so it is a challenge we've been facing since the beginning. All in all, I think we are doing well enough and should give ourselves a pat on the back occasionally.

Valkyrie Ice said...

*giggle* @ Alfred

I don't often discuss shooting people. I just tend to remind them that the usual outcome of "non-mutual benefit" interactions, i.e. the majority of republican strategy, tends to be activities that tend to lead to getting one's head mounted on a pike.

Repressionists do need to be reminded now and then that the oppressed usually manage to find plenty of nice sharp pointy objects when oppressed too far, and that maybe, just maybe they should think about helping "the other guy" every so often in order to give him a reason NOT to give you a very close shave.

Acacia H. said...

Two thoughts. First, after seeing John Stewart talk about the Perpetual Violence Machine of Open Carry and Stand Your Ground, I've realized that it is time the grown ups get together and talk. We need to leave the anti-gun activists who want to ban all guns outside, and we also need to leave the gun nuts who are adamant about "not one inch" and "from my cold dead fingers" also outdoors.

We will be left with people who are rightfully concerned about gun safety issues and the increase in violence. We will also see people who don't want to give up their guns and are afraid of what would happen should the anti-gun activists get their foot in the door. And we talk.

The result? We'd have reasonable gun control laws. Stuff that makes sense. We'd probably either ban the Massive Clips, or require anyone with these clips have to register with the government so that the police can keep an eye on them and make sure another mass shooting doesn't happen. But we'll also see additional protections set up so that this isn't the first domino that leads to guns being seized by police and only criminals having guns.

It's time for the grownups to talk. The crazies can shout each other down in the meantime.


Second, it appears at least one of the 0.1% has opened his eyes and sees pitchforks. It's a four-page article that states "trickle-down economics" is bullshit, the middle class are the job creators, and the fact that if you increase the minimum wage, it won't lessen the number of jobs because CEO salaries prove that lie - CEOs are making significantly more than they did, but there are not fewer CEOs out there now.

Anyway, I thought you'd enjoy it, Dr. Brin.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert... again... if you want to get moderate gun owners and moderate reformers sitting down together... this is how.

Unless you start with a solution to the "slippery slope" (as I provide) you will get nowhere.

locumranch said...

Madtom comes so close, beating around the metaphorical bush, but never quite arrives at truth for, indeed, 'our common goals are not nearly as different from those of our political enemies as both sides are led to believe', mostly because the US two-party political system is a deliberate falsehood.

What the US has instead is a One Party ‘carrot and stick’ system, designed to move the polity forward (ever forward) toward a predetermined goal, lured on by the Liberal Democrat offer a reward that never quite materializes (the Carrot) and propelled forward by the Conservative Republican application of punishment (the Stick).

And, like the workers with the unconnected thermostat, we fiddle with the dials, dialing up liberality or conservatism on demand, allowing the illusion of democratic control to foster our enslavement to any random oligarchy.

And, the predetermined goal? Why, it can be anything at all, including conformity, compliance, consumption or a foreign war. That’s the beauty of this system. It's 'progressive' because our leaders tell us so; the individual is not qualified to make this determination because this determination is only subject to hierarchical control.

Gun control, Suburbia, Globalization, the War on Drugs & Terror (or their legalization) and Climate Change are all progressive arguments designed to stifle individuality & personal liberty. So was the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), desired by liberals & conservatives alike for different reasons, leading instead to an orgy of personal freedom known as the Roaring Twenties.


matthew said...

Anyone that thinks that Climate Change is a "progressive argument[s] designed to stifle individuality & personal liberty" is an absolute raving idiot or they are lying to protect the economic status quo.

locumranch said...

Thank you, Matthew.

I forgot to mention that 'crucial 2nd derivative of debt' which purports to show negativity (growth) with liberal democratic admins and positivity (debt) with conservative republican ones.

Could it be that willing carrot-driven polity is transiently more productive (works harder) than a stick-driven one?

But, given only either the carrot or the cudgel, the stubborn cart-horse works not at all, the former getting lazy fat & the latter becoming whip shy, or so argues Adam Smith in 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments'.

The drover of the marketplace: It is almost as if an invisible hand were guiding what we do.


Tony Fisk said...

I'd add the budgerigars Monty Python flushed down the toilet to that progressive list.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I don’t like to talk about shooting people much either, but I think David’s single-shot long gun suggestion requires it. I think he has a good point about the 2nd amendment’s vulnerability, but I can’t convince my friends to even consider the risk. I point out that the SCOTUS changed the meaning of the Separation Clause (1940’s) after decades of precedence, but their response is that this is simply an error that must be fixed by reversing the decision. They would treat a reinterpretation of the 2nd amendment the same way, but David’s proposal would address it pre-emptively and I think that is smarter.

The reason I think a supporting discussion must involve talk of people shooting other people is that this is at the core of the social debate. Some want to be prepared to shoot home invaders. Some want to be prepared to shoot tyrants. Some want to own guns simply because they should be free to do so absent a demonstrable criminal intent on their part. We might set aside discussing the simple desire to own them, but there are fears that permitting this is morally equivalent to being an accomplice to murder when an owner pops a brain stitch and shoots someone.

The 2nd amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, so suggested alterations probably need as much discussion as the original Bill did. What exactly are we willing to tolerate for home defense? How do we distinguish between a well-armed madman and a grass roots rebellion? How do we avoid the moral complexity of tolerating gun ownership and damage gun owners can do when a very small number of them inevitably fail to act like socially responsible adults?

I like David’s idea, but I think there has to be a significant debate connected to it before we can possibly get anywhere. I think it will have to be modified a bit in the face of the ‘common law’, but that would only strengthen it. I fear it won’t happen, though, until after the SCOTUS does as he predicts. If so, we had better have already thought about what we would accept as a patriotic expression of rebellion as distinguished from terrorism.

Jumper said...

Remember, the NRA keeps a list of every member. Of course it's never escaped. Has it?

David Brin said...

Good thoughts Alfred.



Howard Brazee said...

Nobody believes that the right to bear arms shall *never* be infringed. Otherwise felons in prison would be armed. And most of the gun rights people don't want people with turbans or dark skin bearing arms.

So when they reject the militias argument, what criteria should the government use to decide what the limitations should be?

Paul451 said...

"We need to leave the anti-gun activists who want to ban all guns outside,"

False equivalence. There's no such people. I'm not aware of any gun control group which wants to ban bolt-action hunting rifles and basic long barrel shotguns.

(Even the UK allows shotguns. Even Nazi-freakin'-Germany allowed bolt-action long-rifles.)


"Nobody believes that the right to bear arms shall *never* be infringed. Otherwise felons in prison would be armed."

"in prison". A necessary qualifier, because the NRA's policy is to ensure gun ownership for former felons, including violent felons and gang members. I doubt most of the NRA membership would agree with that. (Indeed, if they knew the details of the policies the NRA actually advocates, I don't think most of the membership would support much the NRA believes in. Likewise, PETA members and PETA policies.)

LarryHart said...

The most obvious logical extension of the gun activist argument would be "If Treyvon Martin had just been armed, he would have been able to defend himself against George Zimmerman." Yet not a single gun activist or proponent of "stand your ground" laws ever makes that point.

The silence is not only deafening, but quite revealing as well.

madtom said...

Locumranch is right, I was pussyfooting. So I'd better be clearer, and avoid wasting time.

I quite agree when David says ". . the other half of the country only uses this as a tactic and is not even remotely interested in reasonableness."

What I'm trying to say is that very few of us on either side are primarily interested in reasonableness. Group identities and emotions like loyalty are primary, even instinctive, and reason is secondary.

Surely, many here recognize that right and left, Repubs and Dems, are run by the same puppetmasters. These masters of manipulation have divided us and we have fallen.

We need to re-unite, starting with a common dedication to America and what the Constitution actually says. Not what generations of owned judges handing precedents to lawyers-of-the-0.01% have twisted it into.

And I believe that a huge proportion of those I disagree with on the hot-button issues would agree with me about the fundamentals underlying our common beliefs. Appealing to this common core and dumping the damn dividers is the only way to avoid really fighting that second Civil War that is being so freely discussed.

That war will devour the human and natural resources our kids need for a better future, much less a trip to Mars. Only a good-faith effort to make real human contact can defeat the project that has brought us this close to disaster.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, we don't agree on what the Constitution means - and we certainly are not absolutists about it. For instance, even the most avid gun rights advocate doesn't believe felons in prison have the right to bear arms.

Look at all of those who fight hard for "Christian Values" that are so very different from Christ's values as shown in the Bible.

madtom said...

Quite so, Howard, but I think that shows us an opening for the conversation that starts out by admitting how wrong both sides are not to pay attention to the words we swear by.

Not the Bible, because that leads to religious wars rather than serious political discussion. But the actual words of the Constitution, which we all want to say we respect. And which many (including me) have taken an oath to uphold and defend.

When was the last time you heard a Second Amendment fan mention the Constitutional right to carry any sword or knife he desires? Those were clearly considered "arms" in the time of the Founders, but they are heavily regulated or totally forbidden in every jurisdiction I know. Yet they remain "arms" in the eyes of the law to this day, because using a blade will make the difference between armed and unarmed robbery.

How often do gun owners talk about the mention of state militias in the 2nd? Do they complain of how the militias have been federalized, as David pointed out, so that they were causing tragedy in Iraq rather than helping ameliorate the Katrina tragedy at home?

But we all ignore the Constitution when it is convenient to do so. Pretending to play a game while making up the rules as we go, our complaints all look foolish when the game becomes a shouting match.

I think we can do better. But only by breaking out of the same old same old, and setting our sights higher.

jr565 said...

Do outcomes matter more than rhetoric? All the states that have the highest amount of income inequality are all blue ones. And yet it's the dems arguing most for fixing economic inequality imbalances. Have you tried living in Manhattan?

Unknown said...


Early in the essay, it looks to me like you mean Debt where you say Deficit. I've seen the US National Debt graphs and these look like them. the most telling bit is the Clinton surplus is clearly a Surplus, not a Deficit, so the Deficit graph should go negative (negative deficit) around 1999 - 2001.

Conclusions are likely the same, but the argument to get there might change a bit.


Lens Universe said...

@ Alfred Differ - "At the root of all this, though, is my conviction that we are a vulgar (old sense of the term) nation with noble aspirations. "

I would counter that our noble aspirations withered on the vine when we saw ourselves as saviors of the earth's peace when in reality it was the oft-despised soviet system that preserved people's ability to breathe free on the earth to a far greater degree.

per RAH himself after visiting the the Soviet Union - "Communists are not our enemy."

Tuglat said...

Climate change is just a ‘progressive argument’? I don’t care what you cite as the ‘purpose’ behind this ‘argument’, you are ignoring all evidence in order to advance your both-sides-do-it crap. Ok, sorry, your (to be very, very generous) lazy and disingenuous analysis of goals and motivations of American political factions.