Arnold Kling  

The Context and the Leader

Positive Freedom, Negative Fre... Solar Dreams...

I assess the Bush Presidency

Claims that ordinary workers fared poorly under President Bush are suspect. Data on the "distribution of income" are often abused by people making the claim that only the rich are getting ahead. Even the abusers, however, see the trends as pre-dating the Bush Administration. Moreover, I contend that the escalation of income is more meaningful than the distribution of income.

...In 2012, there will still be Islamic terrorism, millions of Americans will lack health insurance and America's health care bill will still be unusually high, the rich will still be getting richer (unless the economy tanks), and the trend will be for more people to join the Long Tail that identifies with neither political party.

I think that the context is more important than the personality of the leader. The alternative position is that with the right leader we will have wonderful policies. That position is not falsifiable. The people who espouse such a view never believe that we have the right leader.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (4 to date)
Matt writes:

Regarding the productivity numbers, please note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics omits productivity measurements on government operations.

Productivity growth may simply mean more people working more hours to support more unproductive government, so economists have to prod the Bureau to include government productivity.

2% of our GDP has been transferred to the federal sector, and the states probably followed suit; both operating at less than half the efficiency of the equivalent private sector. So one can see that the private secor would have to produce about 8% more output to cover the demands of government since 2000.

Then we have to ask about your escalator concept. In the income chart, taken from the Post, your compare the distribution in 1967 to the distribution in 2003.

But the 2003 distribution is bimodal, the 1967 distribution is not.

What is the most produtive distribution we can have? If I am a libertarian, then I would say that we are most productive when the most people own the most property. If income is a measure of wealth, then we want a normal distribution, for that meets our efficiency criteria. But that is 1967, not 2003. 2003 has a big bubble in the top category.

So, the escalator is simply a wealth distribution re-organizing itself to be more productive. The two go together, the neo-conservative growth in government and the bubble in the income distribution.

Some conservatives get out of this theoretical contradiction by explaining that bubbles are good for the economy, and government expansion is a good thing as it leads to immigration as the economy fills in the gaps caused by bubble.

If Bush announced in 2000 that he intended to expand government, create a bubble, encourage illegal immigration; all so he could get linear growth for no apparant reson, then he would have the proper policies.

But how does a libertarian justify linear growth? How does a libertarian trust the productivity numbers with a bimodal distribution and a $500 billion/year dollar loss in government operations?

PJens writes:

I admit I was one of the people who was bitter and tired of party politics. Maybe now I am acclimated to it, but I am begining to enjoy the political squabbles. The attacks are becoming rediculious (300 plus investigations by Congress?) and only when I realize it is the leadership of my country I am laughing at does the seriousness of the situation sink in.

Karl Smith writes:

I am not sure that terrorism represents anything rotten.

Perhaps, I am too much of a cold hearted realist but my interpretation of terrorism is that it has proven largely to be an effective strategy.

Using a little a backwards induction the problem facing Al Qaeda was this:

To bring about an Islamic Renaissance they must be in a position of political influence in the Islamic World

To be in a position of political influence they must be viewed as one of the dominant military players in the region

To be viewed as one of the dominant military players in the region they must show that they can defeat the US

To show they can defeat the US they must draw the US into a conflict Al Qaeda is likely to win.

To draw the US into conflict Al Qaeda is likely to win they need to bring the US into the Middle East / Central Asia.

To bring the US into Middle East / Central Asia they have to provoke US militarism.

To provoke US militarism they must kill a bunch of Americans

I think they intended to beat the US in Afghanistan just as they had beaten the Soviets. However, that didn't work out. Luckily Bush gave them Iraq. Yet, he could not have done it without the Trade Center bombing.

So, it seems to me that the bombing has proven effective, so far. Whether or not Al Qaeda can take advantage of an Iraqi civil war remains to be seen. Iraq is mostly Shiite and that cuts against them. However, if Al-Anbar can break away and form its own country that cuts for them.

TGGP writes:

al-Qaeda haven't succeeded at jack since 9/11. AQ proper barely exists anymore, and AQ in Iraq is/was Zarqawi's group, who was too much of a thug to actually follow AQ proper's game plan. Reza Aslan explains what an impossible pipe-dream the jihadist's goals are here.

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