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Playing Tough

Reuters:

Greece’s new leftist government opened talks on its bailout with European partners on Friday by flatly refusing to extend the program or to cooperate with the international inspectors overseeing it. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government also sacked the heads of the state privatization agency after halting a series of state asset sales.

The politically unpopular policy of privatization to help cut debt is one of the conditions of Greece’s 240-billion-euro bailout that has imposed years of harsh austerity on Greece.

One of Greece’s many problems has been the way that the way that its state has been run as a patronage machine by its (until recently) dominant political parties. Privatization was designed not only to raise some cash (enthusiastic buyers have been oddly difficult to find), but to roll back an essentially clientelist regime. Syriza  may well have genuine ideological objections to privatization, but something tells me that it will appreciate the, uh, opportunities that preserving a large state sector will bring in its wake.

Back to Reuters:

Tsipras has repeatedly said he wants to keep Greece in the euro but he has also made clear he will not back away from election campaign pledges to roll back the terms of the bailout. His government, winner of last Sunday’s election, has raced ahead with a series of anti-bailout moves including reinstating thousands of public servants laid off by the previous government as well as cancelling privatizations.

Not only will Greece’s new government not cooperate with the Troika, it will not even seek an extension to the current deal, which expires on February 28.  And if that expires, Greece’s banks will (as Reuters notes) lose access to their funding from the European Central Bank.

Ekathimerini:

The standoff could see Greek banks effectively excluded from European Central Bank liquidity operations and the government with no source of funding, having rejected EU aid while still shut out of international markets. “These people are not bluffing,” Theodore Pelagidis, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said by phone. “There is no way that Greece will make it through February. The situation will be get worse every day, and at the forefront of the drama will be the country’s banks.”

…A German official earlier on Friday said Tsipras is making unrealistic demands and will end up without a financial backstop unless he honors his country’s commitments to its official creditors. German Finance Ministry Spokesman Martin Jaeger said Greece’s demand for a writedown is “outside reality” and the financial lifeline that has kept the country afloat since 2010 will expire next month unless Tsipras shows a “clear willingness” to meet the country’s existing agreements.

There’s been a striking increase in outflows from Greek banks of late.  That’s not surprising. The real mystery is why there hasn’t been more.

At this point, it’s worth turning to The Economist for a brief reminder of why Germany might be feeling a touch under-appreciated:

Germans were told that sacrificing the deutschmark for the euro would involve safeguards, with an ECB based in Frankfurt, strict rules about which countries would join the euro and explicit bans on bailouts for struggling countries. But the rules were eased to let too many countries in, the ECB is now run by an Italian who is creating money and vast amounts has spent buying the bonds of struggling European governments and banks; the German taxpayer will probably end up paying the bill. The Greeks asked for debt forgiveness; they have already had it and their remaining official debt has a 16-year maturity and an average coupon of 2.4%. They would not get those terms anywhere else. Meanwhile, German voters, who went through a painful period of restructuring in the early 2000s to make their economies competitive, are told that such policies are inappropriate when applied elsewhere.

What The Economist (so often leery of giving unruly electorates too much of a say) fails to add is that German voters were never given a chance to reject this vampire currency. Their betters knew better, and that was it.

Over at the Daily Telegraph, Jeremy Warner fills in that gap:

Germans never wanted the single currency in the first place, for like Britain, they instinctively understood where it would lead – to a fiscal, or transfer, union which Germany, as Europe’s dominant economy, would be forced to bankroll. If given a referendum, they’d have said no.

Warner goes astray when he adds this:

But European monetary union was the price Germany had to pay for reunification; it was a way, other European nations naively believed, of containing the newly enlarged country and ensuring that it was properly integrated into the rest of Europe.

On the contrary, this was not a price that Germany had to pay. By the time that the Maastricht Treaty (which paved the way for the euro) was signed (1992) Germany was already reunited. It would have been perfectly easy to renege on any undertakings that had been given to, primarily, the French. No diplomatic effort would be complete without a little bad faith. What’s more the ‘final final’ decision to go ahead with the single currency was not taken until even more years had passed. What really happened was that German chancellor Helmut Kohl was obsessed with accelerating the EU’s “ever closer union” and he pushed the currency through, acting, he later said, “like a dictator” to do so.

Back to Warner:

From the start of the crisis it has been obvious to all dispassionate observers that it can only really end in two ways. Either the eurozone must move rapidly towards the sort of transfer union which Germany has spent the last 15 years resisting, or it must be reconstituted in more sustainable form – that is the monetary separation of Germany and its satellites from the less competitive south, arguably including France.

In other words, some variant of our old friend the ‘Northern’ euro.

Warner:

Now up pops little Syriza to speak truth to power. Whatever you might think about Syriza’s substantially unrealistic economic agenda, and its apparent love affair with the brutish Vladimir Putin, on monetary union at least, its leaders have told it as it is.

“The eurozone is going to be toast within a couple of years”, says Greece’s new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, unless it can create “shock absorbers and what I call surplus recycling mechanisms”. No monetary union that demands its debtor nations constantly shrink their economies in order to keep up with the repayments can last for long. The current situation is indeed a form of debtors prison, and a completely counter-productive one, for if you deny the debtor the ability to work off his debts, he’ll never repay them anyway.

That’s true enough, but let’s pay attention to Varoufakis’s sleazy euphemism: “shock absorbers and what I call surplus recycling mechanisms”. What that means is the looting of German (and Dutch, and Finnish and even Estonian taxpayers) in perpetuity.  And it would be perpetuity. 150 years or so after Italian unification, the north is still paying for the south. Naples is still not Milan. How long will it take to turn Athens into Berlin?

No-one should think for a moment that there are any attractive options, but a division of the euro into northern and southern halves remains, all things considered, the least bad way to go. Sadly, there are few signs that it’s on the agenda.

What will happen then? My guess continues to be that the Germans will eventually (it’ll be camouflaged, of course) fold, but against a background of brinkmanship like this, events can take on a dangerous momentum of their own.

Watch the banks. 

Bruce Rauner Is Trying Kentucky’s Approach to Right-to-Work: Do It Locally

Newly elected Illinois governor Bruce Rauner is already trying to shake up his state: He just proposed local right-to-work laws, albeit at the local rather than state level. As the Associated Press reports:

The states that are already growing don’t force unionization into their economy,” Rauner told an audience at Richland Community College in Decatur, a city he said could benefit from such a plan. “I’m not advocating Illinois becoming a right-to-work state, but I do advocate [for] local governments being allowed to decide whether they’re right-to-work zones.”

Unions are predictably apoplectic about losing the power to force workers to pay dues. But the proposal would attract jobs and investment to many downstate counties. Those counties certainly need it. Over the past decade total employment grew just one-fifth of one percentage point in Illinois — an order of magnitude less than all neighboring states, thanks to high taxes and an unfriendly business climate.

Workplace-freedom laws would help attract them back. Many businesses prefer to operate in jurisdictions that have them. Of course, management gets the union it deserves — companies that treat their workers poorly will get unionized, with or without right-to-work. But such laws discourage unions from targeting companies that treat their workers well. Unionizing a firm means less money when dues are voluntary, so union organizing drops sharply once states pass right-to-work.

Economic-development consultants report half their clients will only consider locating in right-to-work states. Unsurprisingly jobs have grown twice as fast in the past decade in right-to-work states as in states with compulsory dues.

Right-to-work stands little chance of passing the liberal Illinois legislature. But the Illinois constitution grants broad “home rule” powers to any Illinois city with more than 25,000 residents, allowing them to regulate a broad variety of topics, including public welfare. Stopping unions from forcing workers to pay for unwanted services falls within that definition. Especially since the state constitution specifies that home-rule powers “shall be construed liberally.”

Five Kentucky counties encompassing over a quarter million residents have used similar home-rule powers to enact their own local right-to-work ordinances and these local measures have already begun attracting businesses. The attorney of Warren County (which contrains Bowling Green), Amy Milliken, spoke at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week. Milliken — a Democrat — reports that since the county passed right-to-work, two major economic-development-site selectors have contacted them about clients interested in locating there. Both cited the new right-to-work law.

Many distressed downstate Illinois counties could use a similar boost.

— James Sherk is senior policy analyst in labor economics at the Heritage Foundation.

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What Do NRO’s ‘Sports Fans’ Expect from the Super Bowl?

Andy McCarthy, Ed Craig, Jim Geraghty of NRO, Kevin Glass of TownHall, Genevieve Wood of the Daily Signal, and more weigh in here.

January 30, 2015
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Etched in Marble

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, I wrote in a column:

A year after the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo’s offices in 2011, the publication’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, said in an interview, “I am not afraid of retaliation. I have no kids, no wife, no car, no credit. It perhaps sounds a bit pompous, but I prefer to die standing than live on my knees.”

Lent even more eloquence after his murder, those words deserve to be etched in marble somewhere.

A generous reader took those words to heart and had them etched in marble and sent to NR’s office. Whoever you are, thanks so much. And here it is:

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The Romney Decision, As Viewed by Romney Loyalists

I talked to a couple of Romney people about the decision today. They say that Mitt strongly believed that he could win the nomination, but feared that he wouldn’t be best-suited to win the general election, especially after getting bloodied in a primary. And if he didn’t win the nomination, he would only have played a role in bloodying the eventual nominee (a process he’s familiar with, having suffered through it in 2012). They say he thought enough donors would have been there for him, even if he inevitably lost some to Jeb, and that even until the very end he was torn about whether to go again or not. In the last few weeks, he wanted to take a good, long look at the race and see if there was any real support out there, beyond kind comments at airports and the early polls. He felt that there was, and there was a period the last few weeks when the people close to him were convinced he would run. But he knew the window to get in was closing, so he had to make the decision soon, hence the announcement today. One friend and advisor compared it to his decision to get out in 2008, when he could have hung on longer against McCain, but decided it wouldn’t serve the party’s interests. He will stay involved in the process, and could even endorse, but not anytime soon. 

Will McConnell Block Amendments on the House DHS Funding Bill?

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) may limit the number of amendments allowed on the upcoming Department of Homeland Security funding bill — if the legislation gets to that point at all.

“There may be a partial tree filling where they are not going to block out all amendments but I think there is going to be a bit of a controlled process there,” a Senate GOP aide tells National Review Online

McConnell promised an open amendment process as leader of the Senate, but Democrats turned the debate over a Keystone-pipeline bill into a weeks-long process. The Senate voted on more amendments in two weeks than it did in all of 2014, under Democratic control.

“It became just such an endless process of proving how open we were that it took three weeks just to get a simple bill done,” says the aide.

Of course, Senate Democrats accused McConnell of shutting down debate precipitously when he finally did file cloture on the Keystone bill, so it’s certain that even a partial-filling of the amendment tree — the procedural tactic that Harry Reid used to block amendments — will provoke even more attacks and be used as an excuse to filibuster the DHS bill.

It may be a moot point, though, it Senate Democrats successfully filibuster the effort to take up the DHS funding bill, which prohibits implementation of the president’s November amnesty order.

State Dept Won’t Call Taliban Murder of American Contractors ‘Terrorism’

In the latest round of verbal gymnastics over the Taliban, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to categorize the murder of American civilians at Kabul International Airport an act of “terrorism.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack on Friday, which killed three civilian contractors working for the U.S. government and wounded one other. The gunman was reportedly a member of Afghan security forces who turned his weapon on his colleagues before being killed.

“He managed yesterday evening to attain his goal and opened fire with his rifle on a group of American occupiers,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. The attacker was then “martyred by return fire.”

At Friday’s State Department briefing, Psaki was asked whether the U.S. government categorized the assault as terrorism.

“Obviously any attack that kills contractors – that kills individuals who are working there in harms way — is horrific and a tragedy,” she said. “But I’m not gonna put new labels on it today.”

The Obama administration is engaged in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban as it prepares to withdraw American forces from the region. U.S. policy has long been to avoid negotiations with terrorist groups.

Twelve Things that Caught My Eye Today (Jan. 30, 2015)

1.

2. Burying Ebola victims.

3. Heat for Iraqi refugees.

4. Bill McGurn says that American Sniper channels Thomas Aquinas.

This gives me an excuse to link to my Aquinas geek-out list from earlier this week.

5. Jennifer Lahl raises necessary and alarming questions about “egg donation”:

When will the necessary research be done so that we can finally know the risks of egg donation—and more importantly, so young women will know too?

6. This week, as I’ve mentioned, is Catholic Schools Week and School Choice Week. Here’s a piece on Catholic identity in San Francisco schools.

Here’s my interview on a book about Lost Classrooms and why cities and communities need Catholic schools.

7. Where the Senate went to college.                         

Keep reading this post . . .

Pete Carroll Isn’t Shying Away from His 9/11-Truther Reputation

Seattle’s famous “12th man” isn’t the only shadowy fanbase Pete Caroll has pulling for him: The Seahawks head coach also has a bunch of 9/11 truthers on his side, and he doesn’t seem particularly eager to distance himself from them.

USA Today’s Martin Rogers recently caught up with Carroll, who reportedly brought up conspiracy theories about the attacks a meeting his team had with military officials a couple years ago. Following that news, Carroll became a celebrity among the truther crowd.

Rogers asked the coach what he thinks of his controversial following.

“Any notoriety is good I guess,” Carroll told the newspaper. “I will always be interested in the truth, yeah.”

Matthew Mills, a Brooklyn man who acquired some notoriety of his own by shouting “Investigate 9/11!” at Seattle’s post–Super Bowl press conference last year before being dragged away by security, is definitely a Carroll fan. “Every single 9/11 skeptic that I have ever spoken to has great respect for him,” Mills told Rogers.

Rogers notes that Carroll has offered some, ahem, alternative theories on a range of national-security concerns:

“Let’s say, after all the stuff that we heard about what was going on in Iraq, we sent 10,000 people to Iraq as peacefully as we could go,” Carroll said. “And we walked wherever they would let us go, and we just talked to people and listened to what their issues were.

“And then we tried to figure out the best way we could support them and change things, as opposed to bombing (expletive) thousands of people with shock and awe. It might’ve taken us longer to influence change, but nobody would’ve died.”

For now, Carroll says he’s focused on winning his second Super Bowl in as many years.

His opponents, the Patriots, happen to be facing charges of conspiracy themselves, and one 9/11 truther told Rogers the ongoing Deflate-gate investigation reveals the double standard used to scorn conspiracy theorists.

“The 9/11 conspiracy theory, if you talk about the science of what happened and the way the towers fell, and the 2,300 architects and engineers that are calling into question the official findings, you’re labeled a conspiracy theorist,” said Steven Cohn, a member of Arizona State’s 9/11 Studies and Outreach group. “But if you accuse an entire team of deflating footballs or spying on the other team, then that’s just being a sports fan.”

On the F-Bombs of Women

I am not sure I want presidential candidates weighing in on matters of etiquette, either, but frankly Megyn Kelly’s success in getting props as a journalist by attacking Huckabee on something so trivial is unattractive on so many fronts. I don’t want men swearing at me in the workplace, and of course I don’t particularly like it in women either. (It is less scary when women do it of course but also more unpleasant.) Customs differ in different places. But in general, workplaces where this happens a lot aren’t very attractive to women.

Romney Jabs Jeb on the Way Out

In his announcement to his supporters today that he will not pursue a presidential bid next year, Mitt Romney took a parting shot at the man who would’ve been his chief rival for the nomination had he entered the race: former Florida governor Jeb Bush. 

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney said. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

That person is clearly not Jeb Bush, who, as it happens, is now being advised by Mike Murphy, the man who led Romney’s campaign for governor in 2002. Murphy joined that campaign while serving simultaneously as a strategist for Arizona senator John McCain and for Bush, who at the time was running in a competitive race for reelection. In 2008, Murphy vowed to remain neutral if his clients, Romney and McCain, faced off against each other in a primary election. He did not make the same vow in 2016. 

Murphy’s loss was a real loss for Romney. “I don’t think Romney has ever felt like he has replaced the relationship he had with Murphy. He has tried, but it didn’t ever seem to me that he felt he had replicated that relationship,” says a former Romney aide. Romney and Murphy continued to speak even after Murphy’s departure. 

Romney’s remarks this morning were simultaneously at jab at Bush and at Murphy and an acknowledgement that he is not the best candidate to take on Hillary Clinton. Romney’s scheduled dinner with New Jersey governor Chris Christie is another tacit signal of his views. 

His supporters are starting to talk. “A number of Romney bundlers and foreign-policy folks have reached out to me this morning,” says Robert O’Brien, who served as a top Romney bundler in 2012 and a member of the governor’s foreign-policy team. “This is going to be the most wide-open primary that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. With Mitt getting out it does not appear that there’s any front-runner at this time. What I’m hearing from Romney bundlers reflects the wide open field. Several have indicated that they will be signing up immediately with Jeb. I’ve heard from several others who are going to be supporting Ted Cruz. I heard from others who expressed an interest in Governor Kasich if he runs. Among the policy folks, there seems to be among the national-security hawks there seems to be a strong and growing interest in Marco Rubio and several folks are taking a close look at Scott Walker.” 

But wait. O’Brien adds, “Several Romney bundlers are still holding out hope that circumstances will change and Governor Romney will reenter the race.” He notes, “I personally think that that is highly unlikely.” 

Thank You, Governor Romney

As some old-timers here know, I was an early fan of the governor of Massachusetts, back when he was still governor of Massachusetts. Taking on Harvard on cloning and putting his neck out on religious liberty were some of the things that got my attention.

This last presidential cycle, when he was the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney (and Paul Ryan) told the truth about the attack on conscience the Obama administration has so unnecessarily waged. That was something that would have never penetrated the mainstream media without him. Still today, we have miles to go yet, but I’m grateful to him.

I obviously wish Mitt Romney had won in 2013. He obviously does, too. I think it’s a healthy thing for American politics that he’s not running again. Fairly or unfairly, if Romney were the candidate, we’d probably wind up rehashing some of the same old, even as he tried to reframe his campaign.

That and I actually am not as cold on a Jeb Bush run as some others, so I was not delighting in Mitt and Jeb cancelling one another out. I don’t think he should be crowned GOP nominee tomorrow or anything, but Jeb’s a serious person, with executive experience, and real policy knowledge. A conservative and a Catholic convert, I’d hope his campaign might help challenge the GOP to always see the human person in politics and lawmaking. And I think his presence could potentially make for some smart and challenging debates. We shall see . . . 

Mitt Romney, an Appreciation

Let me begin by saying that I think that Mitt made the right decision not to run for president. Let me follow that with saying that I’m more disappointed than I thought I’d be.

As some readers may recall, I’ve long supported Mitt. My wife and I formed “Evangelicals for Mitt” all the way back in 2006, well before his first run for president. We weren’t a PAC. We were never paid a dime by the campaign. Yet we worked long and hard — volunteering countless hours — to try to elect Mitt Romney. 

Why?

When I look for presidential candidates to support, I’m not looking simply for a person with the right collection of ideas. While there are certainly ideological litmus tests (I will not, for example, support pro-abortion candidates, and any candidate I support must demonstrate respect for constitutional liberties and implacable resolve in defending our nation), I don’t spend much time looking for the greatest degree of ideological purity. After all, a president doesn’t take office and impose his will, he has to take office and lead. He must be able to inspire, to negotiate, and to manage. He must be decisive when decisiveness is required. He must be open to new information, and he has to be able to respond quickly to unanticipated challenges. He often needs to compromise — with members of his party and with members of the opposing party. Simply reciting a person’s policy positions tells us little about their ability to lead.

And I thought Mitt would have led our nation well. At every stage in his career, he’d led well — and with integrity. And while I didn’t agree with all the choices he’d made, I respected the way he made them. I appreciated that in an era of relentless media pressure to move left, during the course of his life he moved to the right, and with conviction.

Mitt Romney is a good man. Over the last eight years, my wife, Nancy, and I have had the privilege of getting to know Mitt and Ann, and when I deployed to Iraq they reached out to Nancy in meaningful ways — always indicating that they were thinking of me and praying for me. They hosted her at their home in Utah one weekend while I was gone, giving a struggling mom a much-needed weekend of rest. But those are minor stories compared to the myriad ways that Mitt and Ann support others — taking time from career and campaigns to serve those in need. It greatly distressed me that his campaign couldn’t bring itself to tell some of these stories until well after Republicans and Democrats had spent hundreds of millions of dollars mis-branding him as the second coming of Gordon Gekko.

But that is all in the past. For now, he has spared himself and his family a primary process that could well be more bruising than in 2012, he has preserved his ability to serve the potential Republican 2016 victor in the manner most helpful to the country, and — by making this announcement early — he has given his legions of loyal former staffers the liberty to choose to serve different candidates in time for their talents to make a difference.

While the 2016 race will be extraordinarily challenging, that challenge will pale in comparison to the challenges of governing a nation in the face of long-term economic stagnation and uncertainty, resurgent jihadism, re-emerging great-power conflicts, and profound domestic division. If we have a new conservative president, he or she will need help, and I know that Mitt Romney will be happy to serve. And he will serve well.

A chapter has ended, and a new chapter begins. It will be fascinating to see what happens next. 

Re: Missing Mitt

Quin, I think Romney probably made the right choice for himself. I’m sure he thinks (for a lot of good reasons) that he’d make a great president and that the American people made the wrong choice last time based on a misperception of him. So he must have felt a strong pull to run again, evident in how far he pushed this. But, despite the encouraging early polls, he could well have finished out of the money in the early states, which would have been a tough way to end his political career.

All that said, I share some of your regret about him not getting in. He and Jeb would have been fishing in the same establishment pool, and it might have created even greater appetite and greater opportunity for one of the fresh faces.

Why Conservatives Can Support Giving the President More Power on Trade

Conservatives may worry that supporting trade promotion authority undermines their criticism of President Obama for abusing the Constitution’s executive power. Some neo-isolationists in the Republican party may even oppose TPA because they believe it contradicts their opposition to Obama’s foreign policies. Conservatives needn’t worry about these faux claims of contradictions — they are only made up by the intellectually lazy or sloppy journalists who don’t understand the Constitution’s separation of powers in the first place.

The most important difference between trade promotion authority — informally known as “fast-track” among the trade cognoscenti — and Obama’s unilateral orders on immigration, drugs, health care, welfare (take your pick) is that Congress has authorized the former. With trade authority, Congress delegates authority to the president to negotiate the best deal possible with our foreign partners, but he has no opportunity to put the agreement into effect himself. Congress still has an up-or-down vote on the trade deal.

Trade authority would be akin to Obama’s abuses of authority only if the White House simply negotiated and then put into effect a trade deal without any congressional approval. I am not claiming that President Obama suddenly has a newfound respect for the Constitution when it comes to treaties — as John Bolton and I argued in a recent issue of National Review, the administration is currently considering unconstitutional methods to reach a deal with Iran, among others.

A second difference between trade promotion authority and Obama’s abuses rests in how TPA works, which I fear escapes liberals accusing conservatives of hypocrisy. Trade promotion doesn’t actually give the president any authority he does not currently have. Obama, like his predecessors, can negotiate any trade deals that he likes. But they are just empty words on paper until Congress approves them. TPA only represents a limitation on Congress — passed by Congress — in how it will consider trade deals for approval. In the past, Congress made trade deals difficult by seeking to amend the agreements, which would require new rounds of negotiations and would delay the deals for years, if not decades. Other nations would not take the United States’s proposals seriously if they knew that Congress might cross them out during legislative review.

So in TPAs of the past, Congress promised to give trade agreements an expedited schedule and to allow them an up-or-down vote without amendments. Only Congress has the constitutional authority to decide its own rules, and in the TPA that is all it is doing. Congress can still always vote down the agreement, and without Congress’s consent, President Obama’s trade deals will amount to nothing.

Unemployment Insurance and Hayekian Modesty

A recent study has attempted to measure empirically the relationship between extended unemployment benefits and unemployment. It claims that ending  the federal policy of extended unemployment benefits resulted in a large decrease in the number of unemployed. 

This is an analytical result, of course, that pleases the political Right, who have seized upon the study. Progressives, naturally, have pointed out its flaws. As usual, Mike Konczal provides a clear and thoughtful analytical critique from the left. There are many, many other such critiques at varying levels of sophistication.

Konczal’s methodological criticisms are certainly correct. For clarity, this doesn’t mean that I believe that extending unemployment insurance to a couple of years doesn’t increase unemployment (I strongly suspect that it does). What it means is that the methods of the study are not sufficient to either prove the relationship or to measure its magnitude.

Konczal and other intellectually honest progressive critics of this study are at pains to distinguish its methodology from the methodologies used in studies that they prefer, but these distinctions ring pretty hollow to me. The same problems – sensitivity of results to small changes in data or assumptions, clear potential selection bias between treatment population and asserted control population, etc. – are exactly the kinds of problems that I have tried to demonstrate over and again in various widely cited studies of this type. 

The problem isn’t with the analysts in the unemployment study at hand, but with the methods themselves. Regression and other related non-experimental pattern-finding methods of this type can sound hyper-technical and very gee-whiz (“support vector machines” – cool!), and they can serve various useful purposes. I have developed and deployed many such models in businesses. But they are simply not fit for the task of making reliable, non-obvious predictions for the effects of most contested policy interventions.

This seemingly nerdy issue turns out to be, in my view, a big deal. It is an important illustration of why the Hayekian critique of planning remains valid in so many areas. If we really could build regressions that would reliably predict what the impacts of various policies would be, it would be a powerful argument against certain political and economic freedoms. Why go to all the trouble of having a messy and expensive market, or states as laboratories of democracy, when we could just have a couple of professors build us a model?

Inquiring Minds, Part Deux

Last week, Mona and I fielded listener questions. This week, we field some more. Next week, we’ll conclude these sessions of Q&A — they have been very pleasant.

This week, we talk about Reaganism: What is it? The jihad: How to combat it? James Taylor, the MSM, and more.

Someone has asked us to describe blunders in our careers. Someone else wonders how this podcast came to be in the first place. Honestly, I was a little unclear on what a podcast was, exactly. The best I could do was, “Radio show that you can listen to whenever you want.” That’s pretty much it, right?

Anyway, the link to the new episode, again: here.

Missing Mitt

Count me as hugely disappointed that Mitt Romney will not run for president this time. As I wrote nearly two months ago, though, it’s not that I want him to be the nominee. It’s just that I don’t want Jeb Bush or Chris Christie to be the nominee, and Romney’s participation in the race would have made it more difficult for either of them to win the nomination — and, likewise, their participation would tend to cancel him out. 

Now, as somebody who thinks we need to move beyond the families prominent way back in 1968, I am devoutly wishing for Marco Rubio to do enough to cut into Jeb Bush’s Florida base, and for Christie to do just barely well enough among moderates, to combine to keep Bush from taking pluralities in all the early- primary and caucus states.

With all sorts of highly promising potential candidates in their 40s and 50s who might actually give a sense of excitement, rather than staleness, to the Republican party — Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal among them — Republican voters have a chance to give not just the GOP but the country a shot of needed adrenaline. Choosing Jeb Bush — objectionable not just because of his name but because he has been so frequently and haughtily dismissive, even insulting, of conservatives who disagree with him on immigration, Common Core, and taxes — would amount to a hugely missed opportunity to turn a very good new page. (Sorry for the cliché.) 

Maybe we can get Romney to reconsider . . . 

Biden: ‘The Past Six Years Have Been Really, Really Hard For This Country’

Speaking to House Democrats at their retreat in Philadelphia, Vice President Joe Biden slighted his own administration when recounting the state of the country.

“The past six years have been really, really hard for this country,” Biden said. “And they’ve been really tough for our party.”

“It’s because together we made some really, really tough decisions,” he continued. “Decisions that weren’t at all popular, hard to explain.”

Romney Out, Who Benefits?
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Just yesterday a Fox News poll showed Mitt Romney leading all his potential rivals for the GOP presidential nomination. Romney had 21 percent while his closest competitor, Mike Huckabee, had 11 percent.

But Romney must have known much of that support simply represents his nearly universal name recognition and he had few places to go other than down if he actually ran. Nonetheless, Romney committed a rare act of political unselfishness today when he announced he wasn’t running.  

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case,” read the statement he released.

Romney, ever the business strategist, had keen insight into how the country is looking for fresh faces, and a contest between the two-time candidate and Hillary Clinton would disadvantage him were he the GOP nominee.

Who benefits from Romney’s withdrawal? Jeb Bush immediately becomes the establishment’s favorite, followed closely by Chris Christie. Other candidates who might be enhanced include Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a governor with Romney’s appetite for data and policy wonkery. Ohio governor John Kasich may also benefit somewhat from Romney’s exit.

The GOP field looks as if it is now almost set. Even with Romney’s no-go, it looks like it will include a dozen candidates — a competitive smorgasbord the likes of which the party has rarely seen. I firmly believe the competition will be good for the party.

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