Willful Stupidity

Today’s non-news is that the right side of the Web has been jeering at something Paul Krugman said, except that he didn’t say it. But in their derision, many of them revealed how willfully stupid they are.

Yesterday someone tweeted of the earthquake something to the effect of “Krugman said it should have been bigger.” Witty. But then someone on a Google+ account posing as Krugman said, “People on twitter might be joking, but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.” And the hoots began.

The fellow who created the fake Krugman quote has come forward. Krugman says he doesn’t have a Google+ account. So there’s no question this is a fake quote. Dave Weigel repeats some of the responses to the fake quote and suggests people should have fact checked first.

But this brings us back to the Right’s willful refusal to understand Keyensian economics. Wingnuts think Keynes said just starting wars or just running up government budget deficits somehow stimulates the economy, which of course is absurd. Read through some of the comments at Hot Air, for example.

I infer from some of these comments that the new explanation for the end of the Great Depression was that the economy righted itself magically after the war ended. So we’ve gone from “it wasn’t the New Deal that ended the Great Depression; it was World War II,” to “it wasn’t the New Deal or World War II that ended the Great Depression, it was the end of the New Deal.” Or something. I started googling and found all kinds of “studies” from places like the von Mises institute claiming that government investment in building up the military during World War II had nothing whatsoever to do with stimulating economic growth and ending the Depression.

Yes, they are literally rewriting history, because the facts don’t fit their ideology.


Krugman and Matt Yglesias both address this argument today. Matt says,

The fact that breaking windows would make a society poorer (fewer windows) is precisely why nobody ever proposes stimulating the economy by deliberately smashing windows. But the way the dialogue works is that first a Keynesian observes that fiscal stimulus can increase growth in a depressed economy. Second, as an attempted reductio, a conservative says “if that was true, then you could increase growth by breaking a bunch of windows.” Third, the Keynesian accurately points out that you could, in fact, increase growth by breaking windows. Fourth, the conservative accuses Keynesians of wanting to break windows or believing that window-breaking increases wealth. But nobody ever said that! The point is that we have very good reasons to think smashing windows would be a bad idea—there’s more to life than full employment—and that’s why Keynesians generally want to boost employment by having people do something useful like renovate schools or repair bridges.

Putting it even more simply, if a bunch of windows get broken that’s a loss to the nation’s wealth. However, if new windows are ordered to replace them, this stimulates window manufacturing. We’d have to be talking about a lot of windows, of course.

But if the windows are merely boarded up, then it’s just a loss and doesn’t stimulate anything. So merely breaking windows does nothing to help the economy. It’s the subsequent investment of new windows that ought to help.

And suggesting that we break some windows to encourage the manufacturing of new windows is absurd when we’ve got plenty of things that are worn or broken already that could be fixed.

As one of Matt’s readers said, “Persistent, intentional misunderstandings of basic terminology are a pretty common feature of conservative argument.”

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The Great Grandstander Vs. the Un-Grandstander

Intelligent people may disagree whether NATO and UN support for the Libya rebellion was and is the right thing to do. For two views of Libya at The Guardian, see Simon Jenkins, “The end of Gaddafi is welcome. But it does not justify the means“; and Mohamed Salem, “Libya is no Iraq – this revolution is the real deal.”

The real test will be to what degree the West, and all the vampire squids of the world, will allow the Libyans to be in charge of their own country. And that remains to be seen. At this point, whether the military action was “worth it” is, IMO, an open question. See also Juan Cole, “How to Avoid Bush’s Iraq Mistakes in Libya.”

That said, I still think Dennis Kucinich needs to shut up.

Kucinich has been utterly opposed to providing any assistance to the Libya uprising from the beginning. But now he’s screeching that NATO’s top commanders should be tried for war crimes before the International Criminal Court. He’s also still questioning U.S. motives —

“Was the United States, through participation in the overthrow of the regime, furthering the aims of international oil corporations in pursuit of control over one of the world’s largest oil resources?” he asked. “Did the United States at the inception of the war against Libya align itself with elements of Al Qaeda, while elsewhere continuing to use the threat of Al Qaeda as a reason for U.S. military intervention, presence and occupation?”

As for the first part, we’ll see. As for the second part — Dennis, get a grip.

Not every military action is Iraq all over again, just as not every military action is Vietnam all over again, or (as my Dad’s generation used to think) World War II all over again.

Further, to continue to frame the rebellion as “NATO’s war in Libya,” as Kucinich does, IMO belies a worldview uncomfortably close to Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden.” Apparently, in Kucinich’s world, the desires and initiatives of the simple brown natives do not count. The only actors that matter are, um, not African.

To quote Mohamed Salem,

The roots of Iraq and Afghanistan’s tragedy lie in the abrupt and imposed nature of change. It’s easy to forget that Libya’s organic and intense popular uprising preceded any international intervention. UN security council resolution 1973, which authorised the use of force to protect civilians, was only passed when it became clear that a massacre in the east was imminent. This is not Nato’s revolution, not by a long way. The Libyan revolution remains very much the real deal.

The reason this matters is because it means no foreign power can now assert a moral right to meddle in Libya’s future. Libya’s destiny is now rightfully in the hands of its people, having been hijacked by Gaddafi and his cronies for almost 42 years. It also means the west must to a degree absolve itself of direct responsibility for what happens next in Libya and leave the planning to Libyans themselves.

This is exactly right, and it’s going to be a test of President Obama’s character to see if he chooses to respect Libya’s sovereignty rather than attempt to intervene on behalf of the oil companies or anyone else. If Dennis Kucinich were to advocate a “Libya for the Libyans” policy, that would be a great thing. Continuing to screech about al Qaeda makes him sound like a lunatic broken record.

Speaking of President Obama — Alexander Burns and Carrie Budoff Brown write for The Politico

Once again, there will be no flight suit photo op or “Mission Accomplished” banner for Barack Obama.

The ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi represents yet another military victory for a president long cast as a gun-shy liberal uncomfortable with the use of force. But while Obama has claimed credit for his individual successes — and has mentioned the killing of Osama bin Laden at campaign events — he has never fully embraced the role of a president at war.

This is a freaking weird thing to say. The role of a president at war is to strut around in quasi-military garb and hold premature victory celebrations?

Obama’s statement Monday on the collapse of the Qadhafi regime was a case in point. The president applauded the efforts of the Libyan people, but declined to plant the rhetorical equivalent of an American flag on Tripoli and repeatedly emphasized that the situation there remained “fluid.”

Even the rhetorical planting of an American flag in Tripoli would be a huge diplomatic gaffe, I say. President Obama is correct to say that the accomplishment in Libya belongs to the people of Libya, not to western imperialist powers.

The role of a president at war is to direct U.S. military resources to their best advantage in the service of U.S. interests, and from what I have seen President Obama is doing a far better job at that than his predecessor. He may be “reluctant” to pull a Dubya and prance around like a damnfool buffoon in a flight suit, but he doesn’t hesitate to make risky decisions (in the case of taking out bin Laden).

If Libya turns into a stable democracy in charge of its own resources, and the U.S. is not spending billions of dollars in a fruitless and endless occupation, it will be clear proof that it was George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, who didn’t get the “role of a war president” thing right.

However, that won’t stop Republicans from continuing to claim Democrats don’t understand war or national security.

Update: Michael Tomasky says Obama is turning out to be a great foreign policy president.

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The GOP Wants to Raise Your Taxes

Seriously. Please forward this Harold Meyerson column to any wingnuts you know.

America’s presumably anti-tax party wants to raise your taxes. Come January, the Republicans plan to raise the taxes of anyone who earns $50,000 a year by $1,000, and anyone who makes $100,000 by $2,000.

Their tax hike doesn’t apply to income from investments. It doesn’t apply to any wage income in excess of $106,800 a year. It’s the payroll tax that they want to raise — to 6.2 percent from 4.2 percent of your paycheck, a level established for one year in December’s budget deal at Democrats’ insistence.

In other words, this is a tax taken out of every paycheck, but which most of the very wealthy who live on investments won’t pay at all. Republicans scream bloody murder over letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, and call it a “tax increase.” But they want to allow a modest tax break for working people expire, and to them that’s not a “tax increase.”

Just be sure your wingnut friends know this.

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