Multinationals and CADs

by John Quiggin on April 8, 2005

As current account deficits in the US and other English speaking countries continue to balloon, there’s a big demand for talking points in support of a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” position. A favourite contender is the idea that the US trade and current account deficits are overstated because about half of all US imports come from overseas subsidiaries of US multinationals. For those who’d like to get straight to the bottom line, this fact makes no difference to the current account deficit or its sustainability.

For those who enjoy eye-glazing arguments about economic statistics, read on.
[click to continue…]

Chris Mooney talk

by Henry on April 8, 2005

A public service announcement: Chris Mooney will be giving a public talk for the Center for International Science and Technology Policy of GWU (my employer), Wednesday April 13 at 5pm (Room 602, the Elliott School for International Affairs, 1957 E St, Washington DC). The talk is on “Abuses of Science in Politics and Journalism.” Chris has blogged and written extensively on this topic, and has a book coming out in a couple of months. The event is open to the public – RSVP at cistp@gwu.edu.

No compassion

by Henry on April 8, 2005

Lots of interesting argument about the relationship between religion and the left in the current issue of the Boston Review. I was particularly struck by Lew Daly’s densely argued and provocative article on how Bush’s “faith based initiative” borrows its vision of society from European Christian Democracy, but dumps the Christian and the democratic bits.

This is extraordinarily good news for lovers of free valuable things. Due to extraordinary shortsightedness, Verso Books have allowed Doug Henwood’s “Wall Street” to go out of print, the rights thus reverting to the author. In an equally extraordinary act of generosity, Doug has decided to release it to the internet, gratis, under a Creative Commons Licence. Download it quick before he gets his marbles back is my advice.

Pretty much Wow. Wall Street is an ace book; in my professional opinion as a business school graduate it contains the clearest explanation you will find of how financial markets work, much better than the one in Principles of Corporate Finance, Modern Investment Theory or any similar MBA textbooks. There is also a lot of very good material on Keynesian economics[1], and a short essay on Social Security privatisation that is, despite having been written about ten years ago, much better, more quotable and freer of error than almost anything written in the last two years. There are also a number of good jokes and a couple of absolutely priceless footnotes on the sexual appetites of Wall Streeters. My suggestion to Doug was that he should have jacked the price up to $85 and gone after the textbook market, so getting it for nothing is a bargain to say the least.

In respect of which, the author apparently got quite royally screwed financially from writing the thing; less than $10,000 despite it selling 20,000 copies and taking six years to write. He’s put up a Paypal tipjar which I hope you will all use; otherwise (and perhaps more realistically) you could say thankyou by buying After the New Economy which is also a top book[2], or perhaps subscribe to the Left Business Observer newsletter, which also looks woefully underpriced at $22 for 11 issues given that along with the left-wing polemic it contains two pages of the sort of high quality flow-of-funds analysis that serious people pay serious money for. You don’t get any bonus Ginsu knives or anything, but net that, it’s probably the best bargain you’ll find on the internet today. Sorry to come over like a pitchman and all that but it really would be a shame if Doug ended up financially no better off for making Wall Street publicly available. I own or subscribe to all these products myself, by the way.

[1]Brad agrees with me that the economics is top-notch stuff. I tend toward Brad’s side of this particular argument; stock markets don’t produce nothing, they produce liquidity. It is true that there is no such thing as “liquidity” for the economy as a whole; we can’t all have the ability to buy or sell stock as we wish at the same time. But on the other hand, we can’t all stay in the Ritz Hotel at the same time either, but that doesn’t mean it’s fictitious. Doug’s main point, however – that the stock market is not either a material source of funds for industry or a “capital allocation mechanism” of any value whatever – is spot on and is a critique which is not made nearly enough. Anyway, RTFB. Maybe I’ll write something more about this at length later.
[2]If you do end up buying “After The New Economy”, perhaps you would be good enough to write a review essay and email it to me so I can put it up on CT like I’ve been promising to do for the last year.

Carnival of the Something-or-other

by Ted on April 8, 2005

Last week, I asked newish bloggers to send me links to their strongest posts. One of the smarter traditions of the right-wing blogs is their various “Carnival of the ….” link roundups, in which blogs volunteer themselves for links from higher-traffic blogs by presenting the posts that they are proudest of. On the left, we don’t do so much of that.

If none of my fellow Timberites object, I’m going to try to do this once a month or so. People who began blogging after January 1, 2004 or so are invited to send me links to their best posts as the month goes on. Also, anyone is welcome to suggest a better name for these sorts of roundups. “Carnival of the Reality-Based” seemed kind of lame.

Dave at The Big Lowitzki’s Random Ravings asks, “What is pro-life?”

Taryl Cabot at non-ecumenical ramblings has a fun post about inventions that still need inventing (N.B.- I think that this was the post that I was referred to… stupid Blogspot. If I’m wrong, I’ll change the link.)

Kenneth Rufo at Progressive Commons has a long and serious post about rhetoric and strategy, titled “How Not to Respond to the Luntz Memo”.

The Corpuscle has a letter to a young person, “Young Person’s Guide to Democracy”. (I’m liking this one, too: “Brand New Gay Stereotype, Gratis”.)

Adam Kotsko has obviously had his share of pledge drives.

Nick at News From Beyond The North Wind has a post about another corner of the Victorian attic, the Keswick Museum.

Alex at Bloodless Coop has a meditation on the intersection of reason and politics that doesn’t let the political left off scot-free.

Alex is also a member of a terrific group blog on neuroscience and psychology called Mind Hacks. Here’s a fascinating post on the drug ketamine, a recreational drug that produces symptoms similar to those seen in schizophrenia.

Do you know what’s interesting about comment spam? Nothing, of course. But consider this. No piece of comment spam has ever been able to mimic a human convincingly. It tries, but comment spam is like the aliens among us. They look like us, dress like us … but they also eat the houseplants. In obedience to the iron genre trope that there must be some obvious failure of mimicry that gives away this sinister presence. To read comment spam is to come to awareness that these creatures have travelled a long way to get to our little blue marble floating in space (whether they come in peace, or to breed with the ladies, or because their home planet is tragically polluted.) Consider this offering, left in response to a post about a passage from Thomas Mann:

I also have read some of the best articles I’ve ever read after coming into the blogoshpere. I check the indices such as Daypop for what are the most linked news stories and blogs. I used to go to the library and look through publications but I would never find the articles and stories I’m finding on the internet.

There is a pathos to it. (I’ve left it up to reward it for winning my heart.) I’m seeing an alien who has assumed a somewhat Walter Mittyish form. He is short with thick glasses. His suit is ill-fitting. Every day he goes to the library seeking information about this strange new world. The nice librarian – a mousy girl with glasses and pearls – very demurely executes a gesture that takes in a whole room of books full of articles and stories. Our protagonist clumsily examines a few volumes, sniffs them, turns them upside down. Where is the information? When he becomes frustrated he makes little honking noises that annoy a bosomy old blue-haired bluenose society-type. A rugged teenage boy in his proud letterman’s jacket is checking out a book on football. He openly laughs at the stranger. “Yer an oddball, fella,” causing the little man to back nervously against the shelves, eyes darting. A book falls on his head. The librarian, feeling sorry for him, whispers ‘shhhh’. Every day it is the same until one day the delivery man, polite cap in hand, presents the librarian with the heavy box containing the library’s new computer. She is nervous but excited, eager to make this new thing part of her little domain. She isn’t sure how it works … but the mysterious stranger is there by her side. Somehow his fingers find all the right keys. We see the light of scrolling pages reflected in the lenses of glasses. Daypop! He is happy. The light is in her glasses, too. She is happy, seeing that he is happy. Every day he is there, always Daypop sending him to new blogs where he leaves messages. Always the same. About how in the library he could never find anything, but now Daypop sends him to new blogs everyday. He can hardly type the messages quickly enough. (He has another amusing tick. He always drinks milk. Only milk. Which gives him a silly moustache. But the milk makes him slightly drunk – his alien metabolism. Hence he slurs his speech and types things like ‘blogoshpere’.) One day the librarian, out of curiosity, clicks on the little hyperlink that is his name – odd name, sounds foreign – at the bottom of one of those many comments he leaves all day, every day. It transports her to … the little stranger’s homeworld, where she is surrounded by golden (oh, hell with it.)

Rank ordering of preferences

by Henry on April 8, 2005

There was a bit of an argument that was provoked by my recent post about Republican intentions and labour reform; Sebastian Holsclaw, among other commenters, suggested that not only could Republicans be trusted to undertake reform and increase accountability in the labour movement, they were the only political party that could be so trusted. Democrats were too close to the unions to want to change them. By sheer coincidence, I was reading Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus over the last couple of days, and came across the following bit (p.37), in which Goldwater compares idealistic and incorruptible union leader Walter Reuther to James Hoffa senior (who was incidentally a Goldwater fan):

“Do you mean to tell me,” asked an amazed committee accountant after wading through the ascetic leader’s expense accounts,”that Walter Reuther pays for his own dry cleaning when he stays in a hotel?” Goldwater was not deterred. “I would rather have Hoffa stealing my money, ” he declared, “than Reuther stealing my freedom.”

Now on the one hand, Goldwater was one individual, and he’s dead. But on the other, he was perhaps the single most important influence on modern Republicanism. As Perlstein documents, Goldwater’s particular brand of don’t-touch-me conservatism came to dominate the Republican movement. His ordering of preferences is, I’d submit, very strong evidence that one strain (arguably the dominant strain) of modern Republicanism shouldn’t be trusted anywhere near the question of trade union reform. It’s not interested in reforms to improve transparency so much as gutting the labour movement. Charismatic, personally honest leaders are a much bigger threat to these people than corrupt union bosses like Hoffa.

(I should also say that “Before the Storm” is a cracking read; anyone who’s interested in the forces driving current American politics should read it).