Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quotes of the day

She had an unequalled gift, ... of squeezing big mistakes into small opportunities. --Henry James

At the start of this campaign, the issues were health care and the economy. After "Ted Kennedy's seat" and "Curt Schilling the Yankees fan" and "only the little people campaign at Fenway", the genius Dems succeeded in making their own assumptions about one-party rule a very potent secondary issue. Very foolishly, Obama both underlined the regal hauteur of the Massachusetts machine - and simultaneously nationalized the election by portraying it as a referendum on the Hopeychange. If Martha now loses, he can't plead it's nothing to do with him.--Mark Steyn

Why would you hand the keys to the car back to the same guys whose policies drove the economy into the ditch and then walked away from the scene of the accident?--Chris Van Hollen

That's Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meaning to help Coakley win Teddy Kennedy's seat, and running right off the road into a ditch called Chappaquiddick.--Ann Althouse

You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.--Martha Coakley

In a race where the Republican nominee didn’t know how to use the Internet, Barack Obama was the Internet: sleek, protean and ubiquitous. The Obama campaign dominated online fund-raising, online organizing and social media. This virtual edge translated into an enormous real-world advantage — in dollars raised, enthusiasm harnessed and Election Day boots on the ground. A year later, some of the Democrats’ advantage is still there. But it’s been crumbling ever since Obama took office. Republican politicians have taken over Twitter. Sarah Palin has 1.2 million followers on Facebook. And in liberal Massachusetts, Scott Brown, the Republican Senate candidate, has used Internet fund-raising to put the fear of God into the Bay State’s establishment.--Ross Douthat

As of Monday morning, Republican Scott Brown has 76,538 fans on his Facebook page. With polls opening in less than 24 hours, Democrat Martha Coakley has 14,441 fans. On Twitter, Brown has 10,187 followers compared to Coakley's 3,514 followers. The total uploaded views for Brown's YouTube videos are 578,271 versus 51,173 for Coakley.--Eric Kuhn

Attorney General Martha Coakley—who had proven so dedicated a representative of the system that had brought the Amirault family to ruin, and who had fought so relentlessly to preserve their case—has recently expressed her view of this episode. Questioned about the Amiraults in the course of her current race for the U.S. Senate, she told reporters of her firm belief that the evidence against the Amiraults was "formidable" and that she was entirely convinced "those children were abused at day care center by the three defendants." What does this say about her candidacy? (Ms. Coakley declined to be interviewed.) If the current attorney general of Massachusetts actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison—the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest—that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley's concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo—her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence. If the sound of ghostly laughter is heard in Massachusetts these days as this campaign rolls on, with Martha Coakley self-portrayed as the guardian of justice and civil liberties, there is good reason.--Dorothy Rabinowitz

For those readers who have never had the privilege of living in a battleground state, let me explain what the experience is like. Every other television commercial is about the campaign. Day after day, the race dominates the front page of the newspaper. Your mailbox is stuffed with fliers for or against one of the candidates. Your friends and neighbors talk about the campaign -- and who you support can affect your friendships. You can't escape either the race. All of this would be tolerable if it were not for two things. First, the phone calls. Over this weekend, by my count, we have received ten phone calls asking us to vote for or against someone, and then a few phone calls on top of that polling us about our voting intentions (weirdest call, hands down, was a recorded message from Pat Boone. The Official Blog Wife got that call, and the end of it had no idea who Boone wanted her to vote for). Since these inquiries can't be put on the Do Not Call list, the phone will not stop ringing. Second, the candidates are God awful. Seriously, they stink. Just to review our choices: Democrat Martha Coakley has a prosecutor's complex that would make Javert seeem like a bleeding-heart liberal. She is a God-awful politician so out of touch with reality that she accused Red Sox hero extraordinaire Curt Schilling of being a Yankee fan (Schilling's blog response is here). Based on the ads I've seen, her campaign has also been, by far, the nastier of the two. This leaves Republican Scott Brown, who based on his vacuous Boston Globe op-ed, is an empty shirt with no actual policy content whatsoever. He was in favor of health care reform before he was against it. He can't stand the run-up in government debt, and wants to cut taxes across the board to take care of the problem -- cause that makes perfect economic sense. The one thing he is unequivocally for is waterboarding suspected terrorists.--Daniel Drezner

Jonathan Cohn headlines his latest plea to ignore a Brown win and pass health care anyway "Pelosi Isn't Panicking. Her Party Should Listen." Umm, call me cynical, but maybe the reason Pelosi isn't panicking is that Pelosi's got one of the safest seats in the country? I mean, take this for what it's worth but if Brown wins today, my advice to Blanche Lincoln, and Ben Nelson, and their counterparts in the house? You should panic. They're coming for you next.--Megan McArdle

When I realized that health care was probably going to pass, I was, as you can imagine, sort of unhappy. I thought that this was, over the long run, very likely to result in the untimely deaths of lots of people, maybe including me. I may have been in error about this belief--but it was sincerely held. ... it's not that hard to understand why the people on the other side want what they want. They look at people without insurance, and they want to help them. I'd like to help them too. They believe, as I do not, that the government will be able to muster the political will to control costs. They believe, as I do not, centralized government planning will improve the health care system rather than being hijacked by special interests within it. They believe, as I do not, that there is so much fat and waste in the pharma and medical technology industries that they can considerably reduce reimbursements without reducing useful innovation and thereby condemning those who might have been saved to an early death. These are not unreasonable beliefs. Neither are mine.--Megan McArdle

In a recent column, Krugman urged readers to trust their eyes more than dry statistics (something you could rarely accuse him of doing, which I honestly mean as a compliment). Don't people seem well off in London, Paris, and Frankfurt, he asks? They do. Milan is also really nice: all those Ferraris. But these places are not exactly at the European mean. He should try comparing Bolton, Lancashire (my hometown) with Princeton, N.J. That would remind him that statistics can be useful. But if superficial impressions are allowed, here is mine gleaned from traveling around the U.S.: Americans live in bigger houses than their European counterparts, eat better food, drive bigger cars, wear better clothes, and are surrounded by more and better stuff. Put it this way: If America's living standards suddenly descended to Europe's, rather than the other way round, it would be a calamity that would make the country's present economic difficulties look trivial. And yet, as I say, higher U.S. productivity is not the main reason for this prosperity gap. Comparing America with the richest European countries, output per hour worked is not that different. In levels of productivity, Europe's most successful economies have caught up. Then why are they still so much poorer? Because Europeans work less. A higher proportion of the U.S. population is employed, and Americans work longer hours. Effort, not efficiency, is why Americans are richer. ... Despite the worsening polarization of its politics and the astounding variety of its cultures, ethnicities, and religious traditions, the United States binds its people together more harmoniously than most European countries do. Everywhere, the Stars and Stripes: That, too, is social cohesion. The idea of America, with its emphasis on individualism and the market, is a remarkably powerful unifier. This is a paradox that social democrats need to ponder.--Clive Crook

If [Paul] Samuelson and other Soviet growth optimists were just appealing to catch-up, they certainly wouldn't have predicted that the Soviets would surpass the U.S. My claim wasn't that it was crazy to think that the Soviet Union could temporarily have higher growth than the U.S. My claim, rather, was that "There was never a point in Soviet history when a sensible economist would have seen communism as good for growth in any meaningful sense." If Samuelson and company had said, "The Soviet Union has decent growth for the time being because its ability to copy more advanced economies outweighs the harm of its terrible economic policies," my criticism would be less harsh (though I'd still fault them for trusting Soviet statistics, ignoring collectivization famines, etc.). The same goes for Europe. Its relatively statist economic policies didn't prevent it from exceeding U.S. growth for decades. But with better policies, Europe would still be gaining on us - or would have already caught up.--Bryan Caplan

I would suggest that explaining the depth of the recession is a challenge for just about any macroeconomist. There is no well-established theory that can explain how we got to 10 percent unemployment. If you are a Yale Keynesian, you would have been able to tell a good story when the S&P 500 stock index was down near 800. But it has gone back up over 1000, which means that Tobin's q is doing ok, which means that investment should be doing ok. It is not. If you are what Greg Mankiw calls a macroeconomic "engineer," meaning that you believe in macroeconometric models, then you have to explain why unemployment today is higher with the stimulus that what the models predicted without the stimulus. The standard macroeconometric models do not explain the depth of the recession.--Arnold Kling

Kling is being very polite in trying to give me another chance to recant my absurd argument, but I remain as stubborn as when Jimmy Carter gave Ford another chance, and Ford kept insisting that Poland wasn’t under Soviet domination.--Scott Sumner

A dozen years ago, Mr. McGwire was celebrated as a modern-day Babe Ruth, whose Popeye physique seemed to attest to his hard work. Yet last week, in a tearful apology, he confessed that he was using steroids in the course of his heroics. Only a couple of years ago, Wall Street was lauded as a marvel of financial innovation, the wellspring of prosperity, and the heads of major banks were lionized for bold risk-taking. Yet in tense exchanges before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission last week, bank chieftains found themselves pressed to explain how so many of their investments proved so disastrous.--Peter Goodman

Predators may have "roamed the financial landscape," but it was government that set them loose. It was government-sponsored enterprises that packaged these loans into securities for sale. It was government-sanctioned ratings companies that certified them as triple-A so that responsible investors would buy them. Prof. Blinder seems to have no recollection of these horrible policy decisions. Interestingly, none of the "reforms" in the House financial regulation bill he touts would address any of these problems. This bill follows the time-honored congressional practice of shifting blame to others, for Congress is never at fault when its foolish policies go haywire. It's always the fault of those who respond rationally to the stupid incentives Congress sets in motion.--Richard Belzer

Don't look to investment bankers for answers on how we got here. We don't know and we don't care. We take the world as we find it and try to make money.--Epicurean Dealmaker

As a new year begins, stock-fund managers are all smiles about 2009's outsize gains, their best results in 50 years. But factor in the horrendous 2008 and some 97% of all stock funds still show a loss.--Sam Mamudi

In the past decade, media businesses, from music to newspapers, have suffered from the impact of unbundling. Civil wars in the cable business make it likely that it’ll be next.--James Surowiecki

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