Monday, May 17, 2010

Quotes of the day

The government is not the parent in this family. The government is one of the teenage children we hire to do some work around the place (and if you keep screwing up, we'll give the job to your younger sister, even if she doesn't (yet) know how to start the lawnmower). The citizens are the parents, not you. This is the center of what you don't get - and neither does more than 50% of the electorate. You are not the parents. ... Teenagers have great ideas about all the good stuff the family should buy. They are in fact often authorities on that subject. Sometimes they are even right. But that's not enough to get to be the parent, and decide that somebody else (mom or dad) needs to work more hours. We citizens need the reminder also. We have to be the parents, or the children will take over and rule the household. It's just reality, a law of nature. Power vacuum and all that. Citizens also have to be willing to step up and be parents, even under criticism and challenge. Elected officials are teenaged children we hire to do work around the house. Hold that thought.--AVI

Political risk is hard to manage because so much comes down to the personal choices of policymakers, whether prime ministers or heads of central banks. And those choices aren’t always going to be economically rational.--James Surowiecki

Dear Prof. Krugman: In your May 14 blog-post “Why Libertarianism Doesn’t Work, Part N” you attempt to tar libertarianism as being an ideology that “requires incorruptible politicians.” You’re deeply confused. One foundation of libertarianism is the observation that no profession is as infested with corruption as is politics.--Donald Boudreaux

My nightmare scenario is that people keep talking about their nightmare scenarios. ... When someone is proposing a change, the onus should be on them to justify it over the status quo. But worst-case thinking is a way of looking at the world that exaggerates the rare and unusual and gives the rare much more credence than it deserves. It isn't really a principle; it's a cheap trick to justify what you already believe. It lets lazy or biased people make what seem to be cogent arguments without understanding the whole issue. And when people don't need to refute counterarguments, there's no point in listening to them.--Bruce Schneier

From Washington to Athens, the economic crisis is producing consolidation rather than revolution, the entrenchment of authority rather than its diffusion, and the concentration of power in the hands of the same elite that presided over the disasters in the first place. ... This is the perverse logic of meritocracy. Once a system grows sufficiently complex, it doesn’t matter how badly our best and brightest foul things up. Every crisis increases their authority, because they seem to be the only ones who understand the system well enough to fix it. But their fixes tend to make the system even more complex and centralized, and more vulnerable to the next national-security surprise, the next natural disaster, the next economic crisis. Which is why, despite all the populist backlash and all the promises from Washington, this isn’t the end of the “too big to fail” era. It’s the beginning. --Ross Douthat

If only small initiating and terminating forces are needed for bubbles to start and end, then it is easy to understand why bubbles occur, and why the start and end of bubbles are so difficult to predict, either by market participants or government officials. Some economists have suggested recently- discussed in the May 8 issue of The Economist- that governments try to take actions, such as countercyclical taxes on real estate, that prevent bubbles, in particular housing bubbles, from getting out of hand. The papers The Economist cited appear to misuse the “externality” argument for government actions in the housing market, but in addition I am highly skeptical that government officials can succeed where profit-seeking market participants fail. At least in the US, the vast majority of government officials involved encouraged rather than tried to moderate the housing bubble. I believe the best contribution public policy can make to the control of bubbles is to follow steady well-defined rules of behavior, such as Taylor-type rules, or capital requirement rules, that at least prevent political pressures from exacerbating any bubbles that do develop in housing and other markets.--Gary Becker

Most people have so-called flashbulb memories of where they were and what they were doing when something momentous happened: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, say, or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. (Unfortunately, staggeringly terrible news seems to come out of the blue more often than staggeringly good news.) But as clear and detailed as these memories feel, psychologists find they are surprisingly inaccurate. ... why are memories so unreliable? After all, if they were less subject to change we wouldn’t suffer the embarrassment of misremembering the details of an important conversation or a first date. Then again, editing might be another way to learn from experience. If fond memories of an early love weren’t tempered by the knowledge of a disastrous breakup, or if recollections of difficult times weren’t offset by knowledge that things worked out in the end, we might not reap the benefits of these hard-earned life lessons. Perhaps it’s better if we can rewrite our memories every time we recall them. Nader suggests that reconsolidation may be the brain’s mechanism for recasting old memories in the light of everything that has happened since. In other words, it just might be what keeps us from living in the past.--Greg Miller

I find the President's Cancer Panel report -at least, the general tone of it - hard to believe. Most of the headlines yesterday focused on the "grievous harm", "bombarding", and "grossly underestimated" statements, and suggested that there was an epidemic of environmentally-caused cancer. Since most age-adjusted cancer incidence rates have, in fact, been dropping, I find this a bit hard to believe.--Derek Lowe

The people that are opposing Professor Kagan, and here I'm not necessarily including Professor Campos, but many of them are on the far left of the legal academy. And the reasons that they are opposing her are reasons why I think she probably is a fairly moderate person. They're complaining, for example, that she didn't hire enough minorities and women when she was dean at Harvard. They're complaining in other words that, you know, she didn't use affirmative action aggressively enough. They're complaining about some of the conservatives that she hired at Harvard. They're complaining about the fact that, you know, she went out of her way to make Harvard a place that was more ideologically diverse and more welcoming to people who were conservative. And all of that, I think, bodes well for those of us who hope that this will end up being a fairly moderate appointment. And I would just like to comment that I don't think it's fair to say that Elena Kagan is a stealth nominee. I mean, she's worked in two Democratic administrations. She's been the dean of a major law school. I think that if you can't figure out what her general sensibilities are, you really haven't been trying very hard.--Steven Bainbridge

If you want to watch someone squirm, take a look at the two-minute videotape of Attorney General Eric Holder dodging Republican Rep. Lamar Smith's question whether "radical Islam" motivated the Times Square bomber. Holder, who last year called America "a nation of cowards" for refusing to talk frankly about race, plainly didn't want to say what is plain to everyone else, that Faisal Shahzad, back from five months in Waziristan, launched his terror attack because of his Islamist beliefs.--Michael Barone

It is very tempting to draw political parallels between President Dmitry Medvedev and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite apparent differences in the political and economic circumstances in which they have had to act, the similarities in the objectives and the strategic direction of their key policy initiatives are inescapable. Both tried to modernize the country after a period of decline and stagnation, realizing the “do-or-die” need to break outside the deadlocked economic framework that they inherited. Both understand the inseparable link between greater political openness and media freedom and economic development on a qualitatively new level. Hence, glasnost and multicandidate elections in the second half of the 1980s and the video-blog democracy and small party protectionism now. Both tried to end human rights abuses and police corruption in law enforcement agencies to combat the crippling atmosphere of fear that stifles innovation and entrepreneurship. Both have realized the value of a pragmatic foreign policy and cooperation, not confrontation, with the West to reduce the defense burden, facilitate Western technology transfer and attract foreign investment in order to create favorable external conditions for the country’s modernization. And both have tried to use the criticism of Stalinist legacy as a proxy tactic to criticize the system that they themselves were leading.--Vladimir Frolov

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