Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Roger Ailes is shrill. It is not clear whether Howard Kurtz sets up the right-wing blogs that he quotes as "typical blog reaction", or just fails to inform his readers that he has been directed to these "typical" blogs by right-wing slime operatives:

Roger Ailes: Howie Kurtz, G.O.P. Bitch: Writing about the fraudulent Pelosi air travel story, fraudulent journalist Howard Kurtz spins for his masters:

Here's some typical blog reaction. Radiant Times:

"With all the fuss about global warming nowadays, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is complaining that she cannot have a huge jet to traipse across the country with her immediate family and political supporters. Does she realize what a huge government jet would cost the taxpayers? Maybe not, and maybe she does not care - who knows?"

Political Retch:

"What has happened to the democrats, now they want Pelosi to be treated like a queen? She and her band of freaks are starting to sound less and less like the peoples' choice to lead the country. If the plane isn't big enough then don't go to California, or better yet pay your own damn fare on a commercial jet. Silly [rhymes with witch]!"

How typical is this "blog reaction?" Well, Political Retch is a blog with one -- that's one -- post. The one Kurtz quotes. The blog apparently didn't exist until yesterday morning at 8:38 a.m. If you do a Google search with "Politcal Retch" in quotes, it doesn't even show up. Yet Howie the Putz somehow managed to find the blog and promote it with no trouble whatsoever. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

And Howie manages to sanitize "Bobby G.'s" quote to make it more palatable for his G.O.P base. The Putz removes the word "bitch" from the post so the author looks like less of a bigoted cretin, and also removes the even more moronic middle of the post without using ellipses.

The other blogger, Radiant Times, is "a choral director specializing in working with singers with changing voices" who began blogging on February 1, 2007 and currently has a total of 93 pages visits, 30 of which are from today. So, according to the Putz, "typical blogger reaction" to the Pelosi slander is uniformly negative, and comes from bloggers who have blogged a total of 9 days.

For Kurtz, the typical bloggers -- and the only bloggers worth quoting -- are ones who spout uninformed right-wing opinion, not ones that actually searched for the facts and challenged the fabrications of the Moonie Times.That's why you can't spell Howie without [colloquial abbreviation for a prostitute].

As I have said, each day that the Washington Post continues to employ Howard Kurtz takes a week off of its life.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Ethan Zuckerman:

: Having tea with my friend Abe McLaughlin this afternoon, he mentioned that, of the two hundred fifty foreign correspondents, one hundred are employed by the Wall Street Journal. I wondered about the geographical distribution of that hundred and the other reporters - would we find a huge concentration of journalists in Iraq and Israel? Would we find any in Africa other than in Cairo and Jo'burg?

Could this be true?

A comment informs me that Duncan Foley is on the loose, complaining among other things that Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program is too friendly to capitalism, that Marx is too fuzzy in his thought, and as a result Foley thinks Marx's vision of communism is "unintegrated" and Foley is "uncertain" what Marx thinks of the social division of labor.

Here's Foley:

Radical Notes - The Meaning of Adam's Fallacy: An Interview with Duncan K Foley: Marx had a lively sense of the damage capitalist institutions can do to human personality and the potential for human development.... [But] I am not convinced that Marx completely integrated this vision into his... socialist alternatives.... [In] Marx's [Critique of the Gotha Program]... [w]orkers receive compensation in proportion to the labor time they expend, but after the "deduction" of funds for social purposes... [This] look[s] more like capitalism, than, say, traditional agricultural society. Marx may have acknowledged this contradiction in separating the concept of "socialism" as a transitional system from "communism" as a somewhat utopian vision....

This leaves us uncertain as to Marx's attitude toward the division of labor. Does he think socialism or communism can sustain a complex division of labor without the deleterious effects capitalist social relations have on human relations and personality? Or does he believe that society can somehow do without the division of labor altogether, or that it can be sustained by some kind of conscious central direction?

This makes me despair. Somebody has to put their foot down here and defend Marx, and that foot is me.

Marx can be mightily obscure. But not in Gotha. There he is clear as a bell. What Marx thought about these issues when he wrote Gotha is not hard to puzzle out. He doesn't leave unybody uncertain. This is what he thinks:

  • Yes, after the revolution there will still be a lot of capitalist-looking features to the economy, but they are regrettable consequences of the new society's being "still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges"; and they are temporary.
  • Yes, but in the new society the division of labor will not be humanity's destructive master, but rather humanity's servant.
  • No, the new society will be rich enough that nobody will think that efficiency requires that anybody will be turned into a full-time cog in a big machine.
  • No, the new society will be rich enough for us to ultimately get rid of all of the bad habits inherited from capitalism. Ultimately we shall advance beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois ideas of "rights" and inscribe on our banners: "from each according to her ability; to each according to his needs!"

Here's German Charlie: What we have to deal with here is a communist society... as it emerges from capitalist society... still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society -- after the deductions have been made -- exactly what he gives to it.... [T]he same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities [under capitalism].... The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time.... This equal right [in the first phase of communist society] is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right....

[T]hese defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

And Foley speaking of Marx's "somewhat utopian vision" of full communism. Somewhat. That's like calling Wal-Mart somewhat profit-seeking, or Dick Cheney somewhat warlike, or Osama bin Laden somewhat murderous.

If you had asked Marx in his old age how this utopian future he foresaw would work, really, on the ground, in detail, he would have answered that he did not know--and that nobody should expect him to know. Would it have been fair to ask a twelfth-century peasant or knight to lay out how the twenty-first century social division of labor that we have functioned and regulated itself? The questions a twelfth-century peasant would have asked about twenty-first century economics institutions would have been things like:

  • Who will be my master?
  • On whose demesne will I work, and for how long each week?
  • How will land be redivided in the village if I have three sons who survive to adulthood?
  • Will my master have the High Justice, or just the Middle and the Low?

The questions a twelfth-century knight would have asked about twenty-first century military institutions would have been things like:

  • What share if a typical lord's mesnie will be made up of household knights, and what share of sub-tenants?
  • How will bailiffs be selected for manors and other honours that the lord has retained and not granted in sub-fief?
  • Will auxilliary troops--bowmen, spearmen, et cetera--be primarily mercenaries or primarily members of knights' households?
  • Will the Truce of God cover just Sundays alone, or extend from Sunday to Wednesday?
  • The crossbow: overrated toy or dangerous menace?
  • Will there be a place for light cavalry on the twenty-first century battlefield?

Marx would say that we can take a look at the line showing the progress of human wealth and liberty from ancient to feudal to capitalist modes of production, extend it, and be confident that in our communist future people will be astonishingly rich and astonishingly free. But he would also say that the questions we formulate today about the full communist future are as silly and as missing-the-point as the questions of the twelfth century peasant and knight are about our social arrangements.

Jeff Weintraub politely writes in about the New Deal. Being a historical sociologist of Tocquevillean bent, he sees the AFL-CIO and the NLRA as absolutely crucial aspects:

It seems to me that one of the major elements of the New Deal was a set of measures that helped reshape the playing field of labor/management conflict in ways that helped to support the massive upsurge in unionism, especially industrial unionism, during the 1930s. These developments had a very significant and mostly valuable impact on American society and politics (the fact that union members are more likely to vote than other working-class people would be enough, by itself, to make this an important factor--but of course that's only one element of the package), and the gradual erosion of that legacy over the past decades has been one of the more unfortunate and damaging features of our era...

He is right, of course.

Over at, Dipankar Basu writes: I started looking for the passage in the book where Foley asserts that "technological unemployment is the rule"; I am still searching. Probably DeLong would be so kind as to point to this passage that Foley seems to have forgotten to insert in his book...

The passage I read as (F2) starts on page 10, where Foley has an argument that Say's Law is false, that productivity growth creates technological unemployment, and thus that Adam Smith is wrong to praise the long-run effects of the extended division of labor as unambiguously good:

P. 10 ff: The increasing division of labor with its consequent rise in labor productivity has at least one immediate negative effect: a reduction in the demand for labor in industries undergoing rapid rises in productivity. The reason for this is that the increases in the productivity of labor may run ahead of the widening of the market. Even though more units of the product are being produced and sold, if labor productivity is rising ever faster, fewer workers will be required to produce the output, and unemployment can result.

Smith acknowledges this effect... but argues, on the basis of reasoning that later came to be known as "Say's Law," that in the aggregate there cannot be a chronic excess supply of labor.... The reasoning... is... that the source of demand for commodities... is just the willingness of workers and the owners... to make their resources available for production. In real life, this potential demand can become effective only if money is available to finance the start-up of production.... Smith and his successors who reason on the basis of Say's Law are assuming that the financial system... is flexible enough... belie[ving] in the efficiency of the financial institutions of a capitalist economy.

This is Adam [Smith's] Fallacy in action. The immediate effect of increases in labor productivity is to impose costs (unemployment) on a group (workers) who are in a weak position to protect themselves from these costs..."

What I call (F5) is the game of intellectual three-card-monte that Foley plays in reversing his field: having criticized Adam Smith for assuming that Say's Law operates in the long run, Foley backflips and says that something like Say's Law does operate in the long run: "Over long periods of time... something like Say's Law does operate... there is no long-term drift towards constantly increasing unemployment as a result of technological change..."

Bush Press Secretary Tony Snow has a problem, which he resolves by being as stupid as he can. He is asked a question. How does he answer?

Tony Snow doesn't dare answer: "The President has said that the tax cuts grow the economy and help balance the budget. Next question?" That would kill his remaining credibility with the press corps.

Tony Snow doesn't dare answer: "Because of the tax cuts the deficit is larger than it would have been with higher taxes, but the economy is stronger, and the tradeoff is worth it." That would get him fired by Bush within the week. And

Tony Snow doesn't dare answer: "The administration economists have tried to get Bush to drop the 'tax cuts help balance the budget' line because it is misleading and wrong and it harms the administration each time Bush or Cheney uses it. But they have had no success." That would have the advantage of being the truth, but it would get him fired by Bush within the hour.

So what does he do? He acts as stupid as possible: Q Can I ask you about an argument the President made today and has made repeatedly in terms of the tax cuts? He speaks of the economic output that is raised by the tax cuts. But he specifically is crediting his tax cuts for the increased revenues to the U.S. Treasury. Does the President believe that the tax cuts have paid for themselves, or will pay for themselves anytime in the foreseeable future?

MR. SNOW: What you're doing is you're getting yourself into abstruse ground. There are any number of ways of calculating it. By some calculations they have paid for themselves and then some. But what I'd ask to do before getting into that thicket is to find out what you want to use as your base, know what your baselines are, because whenever one gets into games like this, it's all about assumptions. And I don't know what assumptions are embedded in the question.

Q I'm not sure I'd look at it as a game, but when the President says low taxes means economic vitality, which means more tax revenues --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q -- does the Treasury tell him that more money is coming in than was lost to the tax cuts?

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not sure -- the whole point is that the tax cuts generate extra economic activity. All you have to do is -- I would, if you want to --

Q That's a separate issue.

MR. SNOW: Well, no, it's not. It's not a separate issue at all. What it says is when you have greater economic --

Q If the economy is growing more, that's one thing; but whether tax revenues are growing is a separate issue.

MR. SNOW: Well, but tax revenues tend to grow in tandem with economic activity. When you've got a growing economy -- let's take a look at what we have. We have an economy where we've had economic growth for 42 consecutive months. You also have an economy that now has more people working than ever before. You've got higher levels of employment, home ownership, economic activity. Wages, especially in recent months, have shown real significant growth. Real disposable income up 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year. You put all that together, you're going to have more revenue. And the fact is, a good, growing economy is always good for revenues.

Q I'm asking specifically about the budget, which is what the President was arguing about today. And when he says low taxes means more tax revenues --

MR. SNOW: Yes, that's right.

Q -- he is, in a sense, saying that it makes it easier to balance the budget, is he not?

MR. SNOW: Yes. A growing economy always makes it easier to balance the budget.

Q No, that cutting taxes in the way he's done makes it easier to balance the budget.

MR. SNOW: But cutting the taxes -- you're not connecting the dots. Cutting the taxes, in fact, is something that encourages economic growth. And it is that economic growth that ends up generating the revenue, that allows you to balance the budget ahead of time.

Q But has the Treasury told him that the tax cuts enacted on his watch make it easier to balance the budget?

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that anybody has framed it that way. Call over to Treasury, ask them.

Q I've looked at their analyses; I don't see it, is why I'm asking.

MR. SNOW: Like I said, that's why -- when you talk about pay-for, that really does get into how are you cutting it, and what are you using as your baseline, what's your projection, what are the assumptions. That is not as simple a question as you might think it is. It just isn't. Whenever you get into --

Q I know this debate is to how big the effect is, but I've not seen it --

MR. SNOW: But I've also heard people say, yes, we can say it's paid for. But you're asking me to play the role of economist, and as any first-year economic student will tell you, it's all about assumptions. So if you want to get into that argument, I really would suggest you talk to trained economists at the Department of Treasury or within our economic shop, and they'll be able to give you a more precise readout on it.

Tony Snow talks about what an economist will tell you. Let's find an economist--Dartmouth's Andrew Samwick, who was Chief Economist on Bush's Council of Economic Advisers in 2003-2004. Here's what he says:

Andrew Samwick: To anyone [currently] in the Administration who may read this.... Please stop your boss from writing or saying the following:

It is also a fact that our tax cuts have fueled robust economic growth and record revenues.

You are smart people. You know that the tax cuts have not fueled record revenues. You know what it takes to establish causality. You know that the first order effect of cutting taxes is to lower tax revenues. We all agree that the ultimate reduction in tax revenues can be less than this first order effect, because lower tax rates encourage greater economic activity and thus expand the tax base. No thoughtful person believes that this possible offset more than compensated for the first effect for these tax cuts. Not a single one.

The only bright spot is that Tony Snow doesn't dare back George Bush up. Tony Snow doesn't dare say: "The President has said that the tax cuts grow the economy and help balance the budget. Next question?" That's something--not very much, but something.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Andrew Samwick tells us to go read Neal Katyal

Vox Baby: Reading and Listening: I thought this econoblog was going to be the best thing I'd read all day. It's Brad DeLong and Arnold Kling having a pretty contentious and articulate debate about the legacy of the New Deal. Read the whole thing.But then, realizing that I would have to introduce Neal Katyal at his public lecture last evening, I started reading this article forthcoming in Vanity Fair. And maybe I haven't been keeping up with current events, but I found parts of it truly shocking. The public lecture was fantastic...

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Over at Slate, Seth Stevenson writes about Tim Russert's testimony in the Libby trial:

Tim Russert takes the stand: Twelve minutes after calling Russert to the stand, the prosecutor has no more questions for him. Russert's testimony is clean and simple: He never talked about Valerie Plame with Scooter Libby. Ever. And with that, Russert--a compelling, likable witness if there ever was one--may have buried Libby. Libby has said in his testimony, again and again, that Russert mentioned during this call that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that "all the reporters" knew it. Now Russert is testifying, with obvious conviction, that Libby invented this part of the conversation. The jurors will have to decide who to believe. This is the most pointed he said/he said dispute of the case.

Let's assume for a moment that Libby made up his story. Why on earth would he have done so? Here's the prosecution's theory: Libby really learned about Valerie Plame from Vice President Dick Cheney (and other government sources). And he then passed Cheney's information on to various reporters (including Matt Cooper of Time and Judy Miller of the New York Times). Libby worried that this leak constituted a crime (revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent), and that both he and Cheney might face criminal charges for it. So, when the FBI questioned him about it, he said he was simply passing on a tidbit that he'd learned from Tim Russert. If it came from Russert, and not Cheney, there would be no problem. (Fitzgerald describes this as Libby switching the story from "an official to a non-official source.")

Why did Libby think he could concoct a fake conversation with Russert, yet never have Russert contradict him? Because Libby assumed that Russert, as a member of the press, would protect Libby as a source. And in fact Russert did try to get out of testifying--fighting his subpoena on the grounds that testifying would have a "chilling effect" on his ability to get sources to talk to him. Unfortunately for Scooter, Russert lost this battle. And now he's here in court, calling Libby a liar...

And then Stevenson plays what I can only regard as a game of journamalistic three-card monte:

But now let's imagine Libby's telling the truth--that he did talk about Plame with Russert, and that Russert is just misremembering their phone call. Can you imagine how nightmarish today must be for Libby, if this is the case? He's watching Russert throw him under the bus as the result of nothing more than a faulty memory. Russert is stubbornly standing by his hazy recollection of one three-year-old phone call. And Scooter might go to jail over it.

I'm not a journalist. If I were a journalist, I would at this point act differently than Stevenson. I would at this point remind my readers that the case is not about one single he said/he said dispute to which there were no witnesses. It's not about whether Fitzgerald can show beyond a reasonable doubt that Russert accurately remembers this phone call and Libby is lying. According to the indictment, Fitzgerald's case is that Libby has told a story different from all of:

  1. An Under Secretary of State
  2. A senior officer of the Central Intelligence Agency
  3. The Vice President of the United States
  4. Libby's own notes of his meeting with the Vice President.
  5. A briefer from the Central Intelligence Agency.
  6. Libby's then-principal deputy.
  7. Judith Miller.
  8. Tim Russert.
  9. The White House Press Secretary.
  10. The Counsel to the Vice President.
  11. The Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs.
  12. "White House Officlal A".
  13. Matthew Cooper.

As I said, I would feel honor bound to remind my readers of this if I were a journalist.

But I'm not a journalist.

Stevenson doesn't remind us. He leaves us with the image of Scotter Libby living a nightmare--"watching Russert throw him under the bus as the result of nothing more than a faulty memory... his hazy recollection of one three-year-old phone call."

More journamalism! Irony is dead! Duncan Black sends us to the amazon page for Jonah Goldberg of National Review's forthcoming book:

Jonah Goldberg (2007), Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation from Mussolini to Hillary Clinton: Availability: This title will be released on September 18, 2007. Pre-order now...

And Duncan also sends us to Jonah Goldberg today:

The Corner on National Review Online: I've "matured" or "grown up." And the truth is I have.... I'm basically burnt out on the smash-mouth stuff.... I don't do that stuff very much any more because it's cliched and boring to me (in much the same way I dropped most of the Simpsons and French-bashing stuff the moment it threatened to become a catch-phrasey schtick).... Simply as a writer, when I see the nasty stuff now, on both the left and the right, my first reaction is to think how easy -- and therefore uninteresting -- it is.... That's why I harp so much lately on the issue of good faith in writers.... I'm more interested in arguments than posturing for your own side.... I have a similar attitude toward the highchair pounders on our side like, say, Michael Savage (assuming he's still alive)...

And in spite of everything he knows and has seen, Dan Froomkin seems shocked at the extent of the feckless corruption of the Washington political-news press corps. Informing their readers and viewers is simply not on their agenda.

Froomkin watches Tim Russert:

Dan Froomkin - Washington Journalism on Trial - If you're a journa[mal]list, and a very senior White House official calls you up on the phone, what do you do? Do you try to get the official to address issues of urgent concern so that you can then relate that information to the public? Not if you're NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert. When then-vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby called Russert on July 10, 2003, to complain that his name was being unfairly bandied about by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Russert apparently asked him nothing.

And get this: According to Russert's testimony yesterday at Libby's trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.That's not reporting, that's enabling. That's how you treat your friends when you're having an innocent chat, not the people you're [covering]....

Many things are "on trial" at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse right now.... Libby's boss, along with the whole Bush White House, for that matter, is being held up to public scrutiny as well.And the behavior of elite members of Washington's press corps -- sometimes appearing more interested in protecting themselves and their cozy "sources" than in informing the public -- is also being exposed for all the world to see.

For Russert, yesterday's testimony was the second source of trial-related embarrassment in less than two weeks. The first came when Cathie Martin, Cheney's former communications director, testified that the vice president's office saw going on Russert's "Meet the Press" as a way to go public but "control [the] message." In other words... Russert could be counted on not to knock the veep off his talking points -- and, in that way, give him just the sort of platform he was looking for.

Russert's description of how he does business with government officials.... [D]efense attorney Theodore Wells sounded incredulous that Russert wouldn't have asked Libby some questions. After all, former ambassador Joseph Wilson had gone public just four days earlier with his provocative charge that the administration manipulated intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq. Wilson had done that in a New York Times op-ed -- and on "Meet the Press" itself. "You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don't ask him one question about it?" Wells asked. "As a newsperson who's known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn't have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?"

Russert replied: "What happened is exactly what I told you."

Froomkin watches Howard Kurtz carry water for Tim Russert:

Howard Kurtz writes in today's Washington Post that Russert "emerged relatively unscathed yesterday." But I think Kurtz was more dead-on in his CNN show on Sunday when he broke from the role of neutral moderator and said: "Well, here's my two cents. I mean, anonymous sources are absolutely vital for investigative reporting for the exposing of corruption, health and safety problems, and that sort of thing. But journalists have gotten so promiscuous on granting anonymity on routine political stories that it makes us look bad."

It doesn't make you people "look bad," Howard. You are bad. Own it.

And Froomkin watches Arianna Huffington:

Arianna Huffington had this to say on after Russert's testimony:

This assumption that somehow any conversation with a government official is automatically assumed to be highly confidential... gives the sense to the average citizen that this is a kind of club, to which government officials and major news reporters belong. And that anything discussed between them is automatically off the record, no matter whether it is of public interest or not...

It doesn't "give the sense to the average citizen"; it, rather, informs the average citizen of the reality.

This is important: The elite political news journalists of Washington have known since 2000 of the fecklessness, incompetence, disconnection from reality, mendacity, and malevolence of George W. Bush and the highest levels of his administration. They have heard the same stories as I have--and they have heard more of them. I have listened to some of them dine out on those stories. Yet the number who have worked to incorporate what they know from whispered off-the-record conversations into what they report to the public is very small indeed.

In their New York Times story, Neil Lewis and David Johnston do challenge Russert--in the twenty-sixth and final paragraph of their article:

As Neil A. Lewis and David Johnston write in the New York Times, Wells "also challenged Mr. Russert about initial efforts to avoid testifying. Mr. Russert had said in an affidavit that it was a matter of journalistic principle to refuse to divulge his conversation with Mr. Libby. But Mr. Wells, who also displayed this affidavit on-screen, noted that when Mr. Russert was first reached by telephone by an F.B.I. investigator, weeks before the affidavit, he spoke freely about it."

Timothy Burke writes that Zimbabwe's future is really grim, no matter what:

Obsidian Wings: Zimbabwe Melts Down: Much as I think Mugabe is loathsome, and that his loathsomeness was consistently underestimated by many observers and commenters of Zimbabwe's politics in the 1980s, it's important not to overlook the more systemic problems in the postcolonial Zimbabwean state. Mugabe is not in fact a charismatic authoritarian who somehow overwhelmed an otherwise competent or well-functioning liberal democracy and drove into ruin. He's certainly an autocratic and unscrupulous control freak, and has been ever since he first entered politics. But what has happened to Zimbabwe since the late 1980s has as much to do with a wider circle of people around Mugabe, both in the ruling party and in important and powerful institutions, including the military.

When Mugabe dies, I wouldn't expect things to get magically better. First, because much of what gave Zimbabwe a promising economic and social outlook circa 1988 has been thoroughly and structurally destroyed. Second, because at least some of the people around Mugabe have instincts just as self-destructive and have every reason to inhibit good management or democratization (as they will likely be the ones prosecuted by a vengeful reformist regime).

The problem with fantasizing about unilateral military action in this case is connected to this problem. You could drop a bunch of Special Forces guys on the presidential palace in Harare, take out Mugabe, and change absolutely zero. Frankly you could occupy the country with UN forces and change absolutely zero. What's needed is a huge change in the fundamental architecture of the Zimbabwean state and a change in the basic composition of the thin upper range of the most powerful elite. Those are not transformations which occupiers can readily bring about (something which I'd think should be screamingly apparent to everyone by now).

About the only positive short-term scenario is that some of the younger, smarter, more competent guys in ZANU-PF who have been carefully keeping their heads low through the last decade will move aggressively on Mugabe's death to push aside hacks like Didymus Mutasa and clean out the bureaucratic house. But to really succeed at that, they'd have to reverse a lot of brain-drain and draw back competent managerial and professional elites who have (wisely) left for other countries.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nelson Polsby died yesterday. I sat next to him at lunch last month, just after the opening of the new congress.

"Why isn't Nancy Pelosi not now the head of the U.S. government?" I asked. "The House was set up with the powers the British House of Commons held in 1787. Since then because the Commons grabbed the purse--the financing--power has leaked from the Crown and the Lords into the Commons so that now it has it all. The U.S. House of Representatives has the same purse power--all tax bills must originate there. So why hasn't power flowed to the House?"

"Ah," he said. "I see you are more of a formalist than I thought. It's not formal power to initiate: it's democratic legitimacy. Power has flowed to the British House of Commons because it is the only elected and representative branch. In the U.S., power remains divided because the President and the Senate are elected."

"I grant you the President," I said. "A newly-elected President in full panoply of plebiscitory power is an awesome force. But the Senate? It's so malapportioned."

And I went on: "Within the Senate why hasn't power flowed to the most populous states? Why aren't the Senators from California automatically committee chairs? And why do we put up with this? Why don't we select 300,000 of us Californians by lot, and have them all move to the Rockies in the summer of 2008 to sway the balance and elect us three extra Senators?"

"That I can answer," he said. "That's been tried. Bleeding Wyoming. Pottawatamie under the Tetons..."

Rest in Peace, Nelson.

A growing literature develops explanations for 'Europe's golden age' (the European economy's fast growth in the third quarter of the 20th century). Is this effort misguided? In other words, do we really need fancy explanations for a straightforward phenomenon that is easily explained in terms of convergence and delayed structural change?

Is Henry Farrell especially sane or especially insane?

: [M]y mental model of Tyler often sits on my shoulder while I blog, making polite and well reasoned libertarian criticisms of my arguments...

A Preliminary Inequality Reading List:

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez (2004), "Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-2002"

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (2002), "The Inheritance of Inequality"

Lisa Barrow and Cecilia Rouse (2005), "Does College Still Pay?"

Paul Krugman (1993), "The Rich, the Right, and the Facts"

Paul Krugman (1992), "Inequality and Ignorance"

Paul Krugman (1996), "The Spiral of Inequality"

Paul Krugman (2002), "For Richer"

Paul Krugman (2006), "Graduates vs. Oligarchs"

Thomas Lemieux (2004), "Residual Wage Inequality: A Re-Examination"

Orley Ashenfelter and Cecilia Rouse (1998), "Schooling, Intelligence, and Income in America: Cracks in the Bell Curve." November, 1998.

Cecilia Rouse (1997), "Further Estimates of the Economic Return to Schooling from a New Sample of Twins." July, 1997.

Claudia Goldin and Ceci Rouse (2000), "Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of Blind Auditions on Female Musicians,"American Economic Review, 90, no. 4 (September 2000): 715-741.

Mark Thoma reads Edward Bellamy on inequality:

Bookmarks on tagged with "inequality" by jbdelong:

Information Architect John Boykin is now out on his own as Boykin User Research.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Just Crawling onto My Calendar: Radio: KQED Forum 88.5 FM 9:00 AM Wednesday, February 7, 2007: The Federal Budget

Host: Keven Guillory
[Legislator Placeholder]
Deborah Solomon (WJS)
Brad DeLong (Berkeley

U.S. Census Bureau: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 8:30 A.M. EST WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 10, 2007.... U.S. INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN GOODS AND SERVICES November 2006:

Mark Thoma directs us to David Wessel's summary of Ben Bernanke's Omaha speech:

David Wessel: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cautioned that widening inequality may make Americans "less willing to accept the dynamism... so essential to economic progress," but warned politicians to avoid responding by limiting the flexibility of labor markets or erecting barriers to international trade and investment.

Wiser responses, he said, would be to improve education and training and cushion the dislocations caused by technology and globalization, such as making health and pension benefits more portable and offering retraining and job-search assistance to displaced workers....

"Although average economic well-being has increased considerably over time," he said "the degree of inequality in economic outcomes has increase as well... for at least three decades," he said, wandering beyond the boundaries of the aspects of the economy over which the Fed has direct influence.... [Bernanke] documented the inequality trend and detailed reasons behind it -- from the extra wages that employers are willing to pay workers with formal education to the decline of unions to the impact of globalization, which he said has been "moderate and almost surely less important than the effects of... technological change."...

[H]e offered three principles that he said are "broadly accepted in our society" -- economic opportunity should be as widely distributed and equal as possible, economic outcomes needn't be equal but should be linked to a person's contributions and people should get some insurance against "the most adverse economic outcome."

"We... believe," he said, "that no one should be allowed to slip too far down the economic ladder, especially for reason beyond his or her control."

Mr. Bernanke... avoided any mention of tax policy, a favorite tool of Democrats interesting in reducing the inequality produced by market forces.

Julian Sanchez quotes a passage from Robert Nozick. Curiously enough, it describes exactly how I feel about Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia:

Notes from the Lounge: "One form of philosophical activity feels like pushing and shoving things into some fixed perimeter of specified shape. All those things are lying out there, and they must be fit in. You push and shove the material into the rigid area getting it into the boundary on one side, and it bulges out on another. You run around and press in the protruding bulge, producing yet another in another place. So you push and shove and clip off corners from the things so they'll fit and you press in until finally almost everything sits unstably more or less in there; what doesn't get heaved far away so that it won't be noticed.... Quickly, you find an angle from which it looks like an exact fit and take a snapshot; at a first shutter speed before something else budges out too noticeably..."

Each day that the Washington Post publishes Anne Applebaum diminishes its longevity by a week. Here she drives Kevin Drum into shrill unholy madness:

The Washington Monthly: IT'S A NEWSPAPER, NOT A MIRROR....I'm really tired of this kind of thing. Here is Anne Applebaum's sneering column today about the latest IPCC report on global warming:

"Worse than we thought." The headline in the British Guardian newspaper on Saturday was almost gloating about the bad news. The tone of the article that followed was no different....Among the coastal cities threatened by the higher ocean levels caused by melting ice caps, the paper noted -- not without a degree of satisfaction -- are London, New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

"Almost gloating"? I defy you to read either the headline or the Guardian's brief report (here) and find even a hint of gloating. Sure, the news they're reporting is dismal, but that's because the IPCC report was pretty dismal and they're reporting what the IPCC report actually said. As for the melting ice caps, the Guardian summarizes the likely consequences of a 4 degree rise in global temperature at the end of the piece. Here's the full paragraph on flooding:

Sea levels rise by up to 59cm. Bangladesh and Vietnam worst hit, along with coastal cities such as London, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Calcutta and Karachi. 1.8m people at risk from coastal flooding in Britain alone.

This was reported "not without a degree of satisfaction"? She must be kidding. That's as telegraphic a style as you're ever likely to see in a modern newspaper. I recommend that in the future Applebaum leave the faux psychoanalysis to Charles Krauthammer. It suits him better.

The Washington Monthly: GLOBAL WARMING, TAKE 2....Now that I've vented my annoyance with Anne Applebaum's mind reading performance in today's Post, a reader suggests I should follow this up by mentioning that her substantive position is actually perfectly reasonable:

Any lasting solutions will have to be extremely simple....Fortunately, there is such a solution....It's called a carbon tax, and it should be applied across the board to every industry that uses fossil fuels, every home or building with a heating system, every motorist, and every public transportation system. Immediately, it would produce a wealth of innovations to save fuel, as well as new incentives to conserve. More to the point, it would produce a big chunk of money that could be used for other things.

Quite so, and virtually every serious analyst I've read agrees that a carbon tax is one of the primary building blocks for any effective global warming policy. Considering the results of this poll (see page 2), it's especially welcome to hear this kind of sensible talk from a conservative.

Of course, this makes the mockery in Applebaum's opening paragraph even more inexplicable. If she agrees that global warming is real, and that it may have catastrophic consequences, and that serious action is justified to fight it, why was she so dismissive of a newspaper report that implied the exact same thing? Very mysterious.

Why should anybody pay for the New York Times?

Here's a real story on Bush's budget proposal--a paraphrased and compressed version of one of the newsletters that flows across my desk every day:

The Bush administration FY08 budget proposal is more honest than previous Bush efforts because it accounts for SOME war funding. It achieves paper balance in FY 2012, long after Bush is out of office, in a way that will not attract bipartisan support.

This year more than ever, the Bush budget proposal is a political document. Bush achieves paper budget balance in five years through highly optimistic revenue estimates, cuts to domestic programs with powerful lobbies, and reductions in Medicare spending. Even so, Bush found it difficult to put the budget in balance by 2012. Much proposed savings come from entitlement program cuts and unrealistic forecasts of war funding and of the AMT fix. Remember that similar cuts could not pass even when the GOP had a majority in both houses. Bush proposes cuts to discretionary spending but doesn't provide details.

The apparently-manageable budget deficit of around 2% of GDP masks future fiscal shortfalls since Social Security is still running a surplus which will diminish quickly as baby boomers start to retire. Also masked are the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2008, and of continuing the AMT fix.

Here's a fake story--David Stout in the New YorK Times:

Bush Releases Budget Aimed to Erase Deficit - New York Times: President Bush sent his proposed $2.9 trillion budget for next year to Capitol Hill today, where it was immediately criticized by the Democrats who control both houses but are by no means all-powerful. The president's spending proposal, for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, is the first he has submitted to a Democratic Congress and the last he will submit before the 2008 elections dominate political calendars and calculations. It calls for big increases in military spending, including the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and much more modest increases in most domestic spending.

Crucially, the budget package projects no spending on Iraq and Afghanistan after 2009. "There will be no timetables set," Mr. Bush said in a question-answer session after a Cabinet meeting this morning. "We don't want to send mixed signals to an enemy, or to a struggling democracy, or to our troops."

The president's budget also calls on lawmakers to make permanent the tax cuts Mr. Bush pushed through Congress earlier in his presidency, when the Senate and House were controlled by Republicans. And the document assumes that, even with spending on military and homeland security needs, the government will balance its books by 2012.

For the 2008 fiscal year, Mr. Bush foresees a $239 billion deficit, about $5 billion less than that projected for the current fiscal year. The $2.9 trillion compares with the roughly $2.78 trillion that the White House sees in total spending for the current fiscal year.

"Our economy is strong and growing," Mr. Bush said in an introduction. "Federal revenues are robust, and we have made significant progress in reducing the deficit" The president said his goal of achieving a balanced budget by 2012 reflects the priorities of battling terrorism, keeping the economy strong through low taxes and controlling spending while making federal programs more effective.

But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic majority leader, said the budget "uses deception to hide a massive increase in debt, and its priorities are disconnected from the needs of middle-class Americans."

The senator said Democrats still hoped to work with Republicans "to address the priorities of the American people in a fiscally responsible manner."

Senator Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who heads the Senate Budget Committee, was similarly dismissive. "The president's budget is filled with debt and deception, disconnected from reality and continues to move America in the wrong direction," Mr. Conrad told The Associated Press.

The top Republican on the budget panel, Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, agreed that the budget as presented has little chance. "I don't think it has got a whole lot of legs," he told The A.P. "The White House is afraid of taxes, and the Democrats are afraid of controlling spending."

But Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said Mr. Bush deserved credit. "It's easy to talk about closing the tax gap in the abstract," Mr. Grassley said. "It's harder to enact concrete proposals that may be politically unpopular. The president deserves credit for proposing concrete solutions."

While the budget outlined today will surely be changed through political conflict and negotiation in the months ahead, the spending plan is noteworthy as a statement of priorities and principles -- and the reactions to them. The budget, in several books the size of telephone directories, contains a vast array of items: food stamps, student loans, veterans' benefits, crop insurance, space travel, park beautification, crime-fighting and so on.

The proposed basic budget for the Defense Department is $481.1 billion, a 62 percent increase over 2001, Mr. Bush's first year as president, and an increase of $49 billion over what Congress provided for this fiscal year. But the figure does not include more than $93 billion in supplemental money in this fiscal year and about $145 billion in the next fiscal year for the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Democrats as well as Republicans, whether they back the administration's Iraq campaign or not, have emphasized that they stand behind American's sons and daughters in uniform. But it was clear that Pentagon spending would be scrutinized in the Capitol.

"The sums involved in the defense budget are staggering," said Representative Ike Skelton, the Missouri Democrat who heads the House Armed Services Committee. "We cannot provide an adequate national defense on the cheap, but neither can we afford to simply ratify the president's request without performing the due diligence and oversight our Constitution requires."

As staggering as the Pentagon figures are, they are topped by the proposed spending for the Department of Health and Human Services -- some $700 billion -- and for the Social Security Administration, about $656 billion.

But Democrats attacked the spending on many social programs as inadequate. For instance, Mr. Bush is asking for cutbacks of some $70 billion in Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years, an idea that Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said was "just asking for controversy."

Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrats, assailed the proposed health care cuts. "The president only cares about funding the war and funding tax cuts," Mr. Schumer said, while Ms. Clinton said the budget sends the message that "we're shutting the doors on the kind of country we've been."

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said the president has apparently not heeded the lessons of the November elections. "Democrats will produce a budget that makes real progress toward balancing the budget, makes wise choices and supports the troops and our seniors," he said.

When Mr. Bush gained Congressional passage of "temporary" tax cuts in 2002 and 2003, he and his advisers doubtless knew that lawmakers would be wary of letting them expire, for fear of incurring the wrath of taxpayers.

Democratic leaders have said there is no need, yet, to revisit the tax cuts, because they are not set to expire until the end of 2010. Meanwhile, they argue, the government can bring in billions more a year by being more aggressive about collecting taxes owed but not paid.

But there are dangers in predicting too far ahead. In the 1990s, for instance, politicians and journalists were talking and writing about the "peace dividend," the great reservoir of surplus money being generated by the end of the cold war and the booming economy.

As the president was taking office in January 2001, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal budget would run a surplus in excess of $5.6 trillion between 2002 and 2011. But a recession, the president's tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dashed those expectations -- as did the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Could Arlen Specter please resign in order to make his apologies to James Madison?

TPMmuckraker February 6, 2007 10:50 AM: Specter: "I Do Not Slip Things In" By Paul Kiel - February 6, 2007, 10:50 AM: Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) angrily addressed his insertion of a measure that changed the law governing the selection of U.S. Attorneys during this morning's hearing on the issue.... This morning, Specter said that he found the report "offensive" and proclaimed, "I do not slip things in." If an item is potentially controversial, he argued, he makes it a practice of alerting other senators to the issue.....

Specter explained that the request for the language's insertion came from a Justice Department representative, Brett Tolman, who is now the United States Attorney for Utah, and that the principal reason for the change was to resolve "separation of power issues."... As he has before, Specter said this morning that he supports changing the law back to its previous version....

Later Update: OK. In later remarks in response to Feinstein, Specter said that he actually didn't know about the added provision until Feinstein approached him recently about the issue. After Feinstein's inquiry, Specter says, he asked his chief counsel about the issue, who then explained what had happened. So according to him, Specter's staff was responsible for the provision, but Specter himself didn't know about it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Second Gilded Age Cultural Studies Watch, or O Michael Berube! Thou Shouldst Be Blogging in This Hour!

In a Super Bowl commercial--a commercial that I thought was astonishing for a company that is in the middle of a slow-motion layoff of half of its hourly workers--GM broadcast the Robot's Loser's Progress yesterday:

GM Reveals Its Obsession in Super Bowl XLI Ad - Everyone at General Motors obsesses about quality these days - even the robots in the assembly plants. During the CBS telecast of Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4, GM will launch the next phase of a corporate campaign that began last fall with the introduction of the GM 100,000 Mile Warranty. A new 60-second TV spot, called "Robot," will tell consumers about GM's continuing focus on quality. Created with GM by Deutsch LA, the spot features a small robot that is part of a GM assembly line. Unfortunately, the robot makes a tiny mistake: it drops a screw. The line shuts down and the employees in the plant banish the little robot from the premises. The robot's anguish over its mistake helps to remind consumers that every 2007 GM car and light-duty truck is now covered by a 100,000 mile/five-year powertrain limited warranty, and illustrates GM's obsession about quality...

What doesn't tell you is the robot's post-firing Loser's Progress: the robot works a succession of lower-paid jobs, gets increasingly depressed, and at the end of the commercial commits suicide by throwing itself off a bridge--before waking up and realizing that it was all a bad dream.

In another Super Bowl commercial, Kevin Federline dreams about being a rap star while in "reality" he works the fryolater at a fast-food restaurant:

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Federline advert causes offence: A US advert starring Britney Spears' estranged husband, Kevin Federline, has angered a fast food trade group. The 28-year-old pokes fun at his stalled music career as he daydreams of hitting the big time while serving French fries at a takeaway. The National Restaurant Association says the advert suggests restaurant work is "demeaning and unpleasant". But advertiser Nationwide Mutual Insurance insists Federline is the only one being mocked.

The commercial will be shown on 4 February during the Super Bowl - US TV's highest-rated broadcast, commanding the highest fees for advertising. Rapper Federline, also known as K-Fed, launched his music career amid a blaze of publicity but only sold 6,500 copies of his debut album, Playing with Fire, in the first week of its release...

I am not imagining this, am I? The underlying background assumption of these commercials is contempt for the men and women who serve the fast food and work the loading docks and deliver the pizzas and staff the call centers of America, isn't it? The exectives of GM and Nationwide Insurance and their creative ad professionals think that denying the dignity of labor is the road to selling annuities and SUVs to the fiftysomethings with spare cash watching the Super Bowl, isn't it? This is a Sign of the Apocalypse for our current Second Gilded Age, isn't it? Or am I overreacting?

This is out-of-my-league. We need a Trained Professional Cultural... Studies Person... A Trained Professional Cultural Student... A Trained Professional Cultural Studier... We need Michael Berube or Bitch Ph.D. or Bad Subjects or The Valve here, as soon as possible.



Greg Ip finds former Bush Treasury Secretary John Snow saying that he was on our side of the Social Security reform debate--he thought private accounts should be add-ons rather than carve-outs too.

It would have been nice if he had signaled this at the time:

Washington Wire: A Bridge Too Far: Former Treasury Secretary John Snow says the Bush administration's first effort to overhaul Social Security failed because the Administration was "intransigent" on private accounts. Mr. Snow, who was Secretary of the Treasury from 2003 to 2006, says that the administration's insistence that a Social Security fix include private accounts carved out of the program shifted the focus away from making the retirement program solvent, and added that would have been better to propose private accounts on top of the existing program as some Democrats have suggested.

"You can't do health care reform or Social Security reform.... without a bipartisan consensus," Mr. Snow said at the Private Equity Analyst Outlook conference last week.... "If we made a mistake, it was not approaching it in more of a bipartisan way. We were pretty intransigent about the private accounts," he said.

Mr. Snow said the administration may have succeeded "If we had been a little cleverer and talked about augmentation of 401(k)'s, augmentation of private savings, but not by diverting money out of Social Security. I think that that was a winning formula. What wasn't salable was the fundamental argument that we make Social Security stronger for our children and grand children by diverting money out of it: putting it into private accounts, running up trillions of dollars of debt in the interim and it will all be okay in 2094," he said. "That was a losing argument."...

Current Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who succeeded Mr. Snow last year, is trying again to revive efforts to fix Social Security by reaching out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. But he has said that depoliticizing the issue so the next president can solve the problem may be the best he can do in the two years before Mr. Bush leaves office....

On a separate issue, Mr. Snow said, "I don't think a case can be made that Sarbanes-Oxley is making U.S. capital markets fundamentally less competitive," referring to the 2002 law that tightened the responsibilities and oversight of public corporations in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Much of the loss of market share by U.S. capital markets, he said, reflects the natural, growing sophistication of other markets.... Mr. Snow said while Sarbanes Oxley should be re-examined, chief executives ought not to seek a wholesale change...

A commenter writes: The claims made by Axelrod in favor of tit-for-tat are wildly overblown, and frequently just plain wrong. Anatol Rapoport cannot really be blamed for his sloppiness, although he did (re)invent the Symmetry Fallacy that purports to demonstrate that it is rational to co-operate in the one-shot Prisoners' Dilemma. A good place to read a game theorist's reaction to all of this is in Ken Binmore's "Playing Fair: Game Theory and the Social Contract I," Chapter 3, (MIT Press, 1994).

The Symmetry Argument is not the Symmetry Fallacy. I think that it's remarkably deep and subtle, raising many of the issues that arise in Newcomb's Problem.

To review the one-shot Prisoner's Dilemma game. A and B play a one-shot game. Each has two strategies: C(ooperate) and D(efect). A and B are identical. Each is a self-interested being, caring only about his or her own payoffs--they are neither altruistic nor envious. Each is a logical being, understanding the structure of the game and capable of following the strategic logic to its conclusion. The payoffs to this one-shot game are as follows:

Basic Prisoner's Dilemma

B CooperatesB Defects
A Cooperates(2,2)(-5,3)
A Defects(3,-5)(-4,-4)

Here is the traditional argument for the traditional dominant-strategy equilibrium:

A thinks: "Whatever B does, I am better off doing strategy D. Moreover, whatever I do, B is better off doing strategy D. It would be best for us both if we both did strategy C. But I cannot afford to do C--I would do better doing D, and B knows I would do better doing D. For both of us, strategy D strictly dominates. So I would have to conclude that B was insane or irrational to expect B to do strategy C--and even if B does, I am still better off doing D than C." B thinks the same.

Here is the Symmetry Argument for doing strategy C:

A thinks:

B is identical to me. I am a logical thinker. B is therefore a logical thinker, who will think the same thoughts I think. There are, however random elements--what B had for breakfast, for example--that may lead B to choose a different strategy than me. Let's model those random elements by a random variable b drawn uniformly from [0, 1]. And let's model the logical, systematic part of B's deliberations by having B choose a number p, so that B chooses strategy C if b < p and chooses strategy D otherwise.

What number p will the logical part of B choose?

Well, the best model I have of the logical part of B is what number p I have chosen. Viewing myself as an agent whose logical thought is identical to that of B, what number p will I choose? Let me calculate my expected return as a function of p. It is:

2p2 - 2p(1-p) - 4(1-p)2

This is maximized for p = 1. So I should choose p = 1--should always cooperate--and expect a payoff of 2.

Should I take the problem one step further? Should I reason that since B is choosing p = 1, I should choose to defect, and thus get an expected return of 3? Ah. But if I choose to defect, I am choosing my own p = 0, and my forecast of B's choice of p changes as well, and my expected return is not 2 but -4.

A has to confront two truths. On the one hand, A's payoff is greater by one if A chooses to defect rather than to cooperate. On the other hand, if A plays the dominant strategy of "defect" then A's expectation of their payoff drops by 6. +1 or -6? The issue of which truth to act on is, I think, the same issue we find in Newcomb's Problem.

I am a dominant-strategy guy. If you find the Symmetry Argument convincing--well, Grasshopper, you have once again failed to snatch the pebble from my hand. But I feel the force of the other side: If you find the Symmetry Argument an obvious fallacy--well, Grasshopper, you have once again failed to snatch the pebble from my hand.

If you set up as an axiom of rationality that a rational, logical agent must always choose to play a dominant over a dominated strategy--well, Grasshopper, you have begged the question, and you have to answer the next order question: why you think that your rational, logical agents are smart?

Hoisted from Comments for Further Discussion: TIT-FOR-TAT...

I wrote what I thought was an innocuous:

Tom Slee Tells Us That Game Theorist Anatol Rapoport Has Died: Rapoport's "Tit-for-Tat" solution to repeated prisoner's dilemma has two huge things going for it:

  1. You cannot exploit it. You are always better off cooperating than attempting to game it. It's simple, so it's easy to figure out what it is and what it is doing.
  2. These are two very powerful advantages in any strategic interaction.

Crooked Timber: Anatol Rapoport... perhaps... most widely-known... the Tit-for-Tat rule for repeated games of the Prisoner's Dilemma, embodied in a four-line program Rapoport successfully entered in a contest run by Robert Axelrod. Rapoport's program co-operates inititially, and thereafter matches the other player's last action, defecting in response to a defection, and returning to co-operation if the other player does so...

And produced a bunch of comments:

[Simplicity and non-exploitation] can be said for many other strategies, including cooperating until the other player defects and then defecting in perpetuity. It adds nothing to the literature on credibility in decision-making save a convenient reference. Kenneth Arrow's work is non-obvious and counterintuitive. Much of the rest [of game theory] is formulaic rationalization built on questionable axioms which drive to logical conclusions assuming one buys into those axioms. It may be a bit much holding Rappaport responsible for what game theory has become. May he rest in peace.

I don't quite understand the comment. It's true, of course, that there are other strategies that meet those two stated conditions; but (and perhaps this ought to have been stressed along with them) it was Rapoport's that won the contest against all the clever complexities that were submitted. Its ability to run up a higher score against a variety of strategies under more or less realistic conditions than "defect in perpetuity" seems fairly clear a priori. Again, is there a reference for "holding Rappaport responsible for what game theory has become"? It's not clear that Tom Slee is making such a strong claim; nor whether that's supposed to be a good thing or a bad one. Certainly AR was a leader of opposition to what the Rand Corporation was turning game theory into, and he seems to have been influential in that effort; and it's hard to see that as any but a good thing.

It certainly seems to describe historical reality pretty well... "...two agents playing tit for tat remain vulnerable. A one-time, single-bit error in either player's interpretation of events [e.g.Iraq] can lead to an unending 'death spiral'. In this symmetric situation, each side perceives itself as preferring to cooperate, if only the other side would. But each is forced by the strategy into repeatedly punishing an opponent who continues to attack despite being punished in every game cycle. Both sides come to think of themselves as innocent and acting in self-defense, and their opponent as either evil or too stupid to learn to cooperate" i.e. the armchair general types hunkered down in front of their TV sets and war blogs, with buckets of popcorn, drawn into the Iraq War like the complicated plot of a fiendishly violent soap opera, feverish imaginations convinced that that the only option is to keep playing, playing, and playing, double or nothing, until Norman Podoretz's World War 4 egg is finally hatched and the corpses pile high.

In econ and ev psych Gintis and others have supplemmented simple reciprocity (approximately tit for tat) with strong recoprocity (altruistic retaliation against defectors, even at personal cost for the retaliator). Individualist simple reciprocity can't deal with a crippling first strike. Strong reciprocity usually works within a defined community, all members of which are committed to backing up the others.) "Moral sentiments and Material Interests", Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr, eds., MIT, 2005.

Walktheline's comment was the first I've ever seen making counterintuitivity a necessary requirement of good work, though economists and the like often seem to behave as though it were. The dadaists of science...

The claims made by Axelrod in favor of tit-for-tat are wildly overblown, and frequently just plain wrong. Anatol Rapoport cannot really be blamed for his sloppiness, although he did (re)invent the Symmetry Fallacy that purports to demonstrate that it is rational to co-operate in the one-shot Prisoners' Dilemma. A good place to read a game theorist's reaction to all of this is in Ken Binmore's "Playing Fair: Game Theory and the Social Contract I," Chapter 3, (MIT Press, 1994).

Jesus, this guy has enemies.

I've seen very, very unpleasant things written about Rapoport's intro to the Penguin edition of Clausewitz, though whether those comments illuminated R. or his critics I could not say.

It's not clear what Brad DeLong means by 'Rapoport's "Tit-for-Tat" solution to repeated prisoner's dilemma.' Tit-for Tat is neither evolutionarily stable nor subgame perfect in the infinitely repeated Prisoners' Dilemma, so not really a "solution" at all. In fact no strategy is evolutionarily stable in this game, but there are many subgame perfect strategies, including the Grim Strategy, which punishes by reverting to Confess forever after the first deviation from cooperation. Anatol Rapoport was a great man in many ways, and a pioneer of applied game theory, but the confused acclaim accorded to his tit-for-tat strategy probably does him little justice.

Porlock -- I may have been unfair to Rapaport. I'm just underwhelmed by the inference that mathematically formalizing tit-for-tat behavior is an intellectual accomplishment. John Emerson -- I understand your point. In my defense, I just don't see the point in embracing game theoretical models unless they teach us something new. The novelty of most such papers I've read lies in the implicit claim they make about social rationality through their use of models that quantify utility. There are major problems with this, not the least of which is that it is rarely clarified whether the models presented are intended to be descriptivist (attempts to explain actor behavior) or prescriptivist (strategies to maximize utility). Note the way comments two and three on this thread assume different things here. Anyway, I consider it incredibly misleading (a major step backwards) for scholars to embrace a form of argument that permits form to obfuscate what is really under discussion. Working through something like Arrow's theorum is a reminder of the validity and worth of the approach though, because Arrow avoids these traps and teaches us something we don't already know. So I 'm not willing to dismiss the approach, but I don't get anything close to that from reading Rapaport or Axelrod or the other IR game theorists.

Let me just re-comment on two:

Tit-for Tat is neither evolutionarily stable nor subgame perfect in the infinitely repeated Prisoners' Dilemma, so not really a "solution" at all. In fact no strategy is evolutionarily stable in this game, but there are many subgame perfect strategies, including the Grim Strategy, which punishes by reverting to Confess forever after the first deviation from cooperation...

Anatol Rapoport cannot really be blamed for his sloppiness, although he did (re)invent the Symmetry Fallacy that purports to demonstrate that it is rational to co-operate in the one-shot Prisoners' Dilemma...

The fact that GRIM is subgame-perfect suggests a problem with subgame-perfection as one's equilibrium concept, no?

And the Symmetry Argument is not the Symmetry Fallacy. It's remarkably deep and subtle, raising many of the issues that arise in Newcomb's Problem. Let me see if... No, this would take too long. More later...

Ken Binmore writes:

Robert Axelrod - The Complexity of Cooperation: On examination, it turns out that TIT-FOR-TAT was not so very successful in Axelrod's simulation. Nor is the limited success it does enjoy robust when the initial population of entries is varied. The unforgiving GRIM does extremely well when the initial population of entries consists of all 26 finite automata with at most two states.... Why not follow Linster (1990, 1992) in beginning with all finite automata with at most two states? The system then converges from a wide variety of initial conditions to a mixture in which the strategy GRIM is played with probability greater than 1/2. But GRIM is not forgiving. On the contrary, it gets its name from its relentless punishment of any deviation for all eternity...

GRIM can only be beaten only by programs that (a) defect first, and (b) thereafter follow TIT-FOR-TAT by never offering cooperation this turn in response to defection last term. GRIM can only be tied by another GRIM, by TIT-FOR-TAT, by JESUSCHRIST, or by other programs that never defect in response to cooperation.

It is important to be clear about why GRIM "succeeds": it "succeeds" not because it does well but because it ensures that everybody else does extremely badly. As soon as GRIM learns that it is not playing against another instantiation of GRIM, it then does everything it can to make the other's score as low as possible. In evolutionary game-theory set-ups, GRIM will tend to increase its share within a community, but communities that have a lot of GRIMs in them will have low average scores (and hence, presumably, be unlikely to expand much).

I would argue that Binmore is working with the wrong definition of "successful": solitudinem faciunt et "successful" appellant. "Successful" means that one does well, not that one turns one's surrounding environment into an instantiation of Road Warrior.

We're in a situation of reflective equilibrium with game theory here: results that are rigorous but are counterintuitive suggest a modeling error; results that are intuitive but unrigorous suggest a wishful-thinking error.

I Can't Believe I Missed This! Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

Subterranean Special Science Fiction Cliche Issue: I always remember the moments when I’ve run into something I hadn’t realized was missing from other books.... That wonderful moment in Chushingura where the feudal retainers, meeting in their castle to decide whether they’re going to go to war with the central government, discuss how much of the paper currency they’ve issued is still floating around unredeemed. (They have to redeem it before rebelling, they decide; otherwise they’ll leave the peasants holding worthless paper.)

Ah. The footnotes tell me it's from the Kurosawa version, which I have not seen.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Rapoport's "Tit-for-Tat" solution to repeated prisoner's dilemma has two huge things going for it:

  1. You cannot exploit it. You are always better off cooperating than attempting to game it.
  2. It's simple, so it's easy to figure out what it is and what it is doing.

These are two very powerful advantages in any strategic interaction.

Crooked Timber: Anatol Rapoport has died at the age of 95. Among many contributions, perhaps his most widely-known was the Tit-for-Tat rule for repeated games of the Prisoner's Dilemma, embodied in a four-line program Rapoport successfully entered in a contest run by Robert Axelrod. Rapoport's program co-operates inititially, and thereafter matches the other player's last action, defecting in response to a defection, and returning to co-operation if the other player does so...