The New York Times on Obama’s Economics (sorta)

The New York Times today has two opposing articles with views on what we can expect economically from Obama.

Is History Siding With Obama’s Economic Plan?

This article is based around two astounding facts comparing years under Democratic and Republican presidents. One is that the economy grows faster under Democrats. Surprisingly faster.

Data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats.

That 1.14-point difference, if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.

This is a fascinating fact. The biggest problem is that it doesn’t seem to make any sense. The president doesn’t have many ways to impact the economy. Why would this large difference exist? And yet it does.

Two is that income inequality grows under Republican regimes and lessens under Democratic ones. This seems fairly straightforward. Democrats tax the rich and raise the minimum rage, the Republicans do the opposite. Are the two connected? I believe so, but this is not established at all, and there is no reason to think that if the effect exists it would be immediate.

…if history is a guide, an Obama victory in November would lead to faster economic growth with less inequality, while a McCain victory would lead to slower economic growth with more inequality. Which part of the Obama menu don’t you like?

Because the first point (higher growth under Democrats) doesn’t have any mechanism behind it, you can’t assume it would hold true with an Obama presidency. In fact, it completely ignores Obama. It simply says that because Obama is a Democrat we will see the results we historically have seen with Democrats. This is tempting and suggestive, but in the end and unfounded conclusion. However, the second point (about income inequality) is a fair assumption to make, so on balance it does suggest that Obama will be better for the economy.

Obama’s Questionable Stimulus Plan

I lose respect for Ben Stein with every article of his I read.

But I am a bit worried that his knowledge of economics may not be as extensive as his legal background.

Ben Stein is an ex-law professor with no formal economic background. Glass houses and rocks, ya know? The article is a good explanation of why stimulus checks are a bad idea, economically speaking. After all they are simply borrowing from the future to try and goose todays economy. The net impact is to drive us deeper in debt. I fully agree.

But. Ben Stein is against Obama because Obama is borrowing against the future. That is the same thing as increasing the deficit. If you look at the announced spending plans of the candidates, McCain is borrowing much more. Something like $500 Billion to $350 Billion. (I am unable to find great cites, but this is universally regarded as true. Here’s a weak one. Here’s one that projects $5 Trillion to $3.5 Trillion over the next decade.)

In other words, Ben Stein is an idiot. If you don’t like deficit spending, you should vote for Obama, his bad stimulus plan ($50 Billion) is overwhelmed by his better deficit spending plan.

Harley, R.I.P.

Our dog passed away during the night.

harley1
harley2

We rescued her from the pound in early 2005. She was scheduled to be euthanized the next day there. We’re glad we were able to give her a few extra years of happy family life. We don’t really know what happened, but it appears to have painless and easy.

Damn.

Links o’ Interest

Selections from HP Lovecraft’s brief tenure as Whitman’s sampler copywriter

Slowmotion bitchslap

I’ve been thinking… I’m the man of this house, so

Remember Danny Alamonte, the “12-year old” pitcher in Little League World Series? Here’s a sweet story of baseball karma.

Cheating (funny)

Can this be true? Grazing cattle align north-south.

Dial-A-Human: The codes to get a human in those automated phone systems.

10 Top Referee Attacks

What body parts are mentioned in music? (Interactive, by genre)

It’s the end of the world. Warning label on Peanut Butter that “Allergens: Contains peanuts.” (Detailed labeling.)

Who was the best athlete Phil Jackson ever coached?

If adults were subjected to the same indignities as children

Mythbusters draws a Mona Lisa in 80 milliseconds with paintballs.

Things to say during sex

Harrison Ford adlibs (ESB = Empire Strikes Back)

Worst help desk ticket

LBJ and civil rights (remeberances of Richard Caro)

A funny McCain ad.

It’s a political partay!

Social Security Update

What’s new in Social Security in 2008?

In May, the trustees had their latest report come out. If you read my writeups (1 and 2) on understanding Social Security, you’ll recognize this as the key figure:
long term forecast

This is a model, under three different sets of assumptions, of when the SS surplus runs out. Not when the program doesn’t have any money, but when the surplus we’ve been squirreling away for 30-odd years is gone. You’ll notice that option II intersects at 2041. In other words, everything is perfect for the next 33 years. And after that it’s only mostly perfect. Find me another government program that can say that! You’ll also notice that if the assumptions underlying option I are true, we’re in perfect shape forever. There is good reason to think that the truth is closer to I than to II. The actuaries who do this work have certain biases, and of course it is more important to make sure that the program doesn’t go bankrupt than to hope it delivers a new income stream.

Another way to look at this is that it would take relatively little effort for us to shift the funding from path II to path I. To whatever degree you think 33 years isn’t enough, it takes very little sacrifice to make it permanent.

August 22, 2008: The CBO (Congressional Budget Office) releases it’s latest examination of Social Security: Government report shows that program is healthy for decades to come.

Here, the story is even better. The surplus is projected to last until 2049. That’s 41 years instead of 33. In fact, every time another years passes and we have more data, the date for the surplus running out is pushed further back. This is another reason to think that option I is closer to the truth.

And after 2049, there is still 81% of promised benefits. How much of a change would it take to cover that 19%? Not much.

Whoops, the CBO report is here. The key figure is below, showing what year the surplus will be depleted. The link has some more discussion about it.

CBO Forecast

Hilzoy said it well:

In 2006, the CBO projected (pdf) that the Social Security trust funds would be exhausted in 2046. Apparently, during the last two years, the date when the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted has been pushed three years further into the future. At this rate, if we keep on doing nothing, that date will never arrive at all.

Olympics – The Unforgettable Moment

This is my favorite moment of the Olympics.

It’s women’s water polo. USA is ahead 12-11. China gets the ball with 8 seconds left. They do not score a point. They don’t even take a shot. They don’t even try take a shot. They do nothing.

Their coach mocks them. Openly mocks them. On international TV. This footage is priceless. We have watched it at least twice a day for laughs. Has there ever been another time where a coach has openly mocked his own team?

At any rate, here it is from YouTube — it doesn’t get the point across as well, but still. Never seen anything like it.

(Why the delay on this? I have been trying for a week to get the footage of my TiVo to my computer and make a video of it. I’ve been hamstrung because the raw footage is 17G, and I only have 8G free – so that took a little juggling. When I finally got it on my computer I found out that TiVo uses a propietary format that can’t be converted to a standardized format unless you upgrade to TiVo Desktop Plus for $25. Not likely.)

Olympics IX – Closing Ceremonies

Eh. Three weeks ago I might have been impressed. It was a pale shadow of the opening ceremonies. You can make a good case that the opening ceremonies were the biggest and best spectacle in all of human history. I suppose it’s hard to top that.

London looked pathetic next to Beijing. Wow, a bus! That sure is exciting! Jeepers, I sure hope there’s a 20-minute tribute to double-entry bookkeeping! And umbrellas!

After the Beijing spectacle, bringing out your celebrities, no matter how famous, seems a bit common. I love Jimmy Page. And there’s something fitting about having the biggest rock band guitarist ever play at the Olympics. And yet, it’s also random. Yes, why not throw David Beckham in there? I wonder if David Brent is free? Can we get a big statue of King George III? A tribute to the protestant reformation?

I mean, seriously. Whole Lotta Love at the Olympics? That’s just wrong.

I like the part where the athletes run wild. Not sure why. Honest human emotion always works. I understand why so many of them have cameras, but it takes away from the experience for us to see them snapping away like mad.

I give it an A on it’s on merits, a B- compared to the opening.

Olympics VIII

Marathon: I love the marathon. I’m not sure what it is about this sport that is so fascinating. There is nothing like the moment when the lead runner comes back into the stadium to soak in the adulation of the stadium crowd. There is something fitting about this sport coming at the end of the Olympics. Of random note, the tenth place american looks uncannily like my brother-in-law, who in no slouch of a runner himself. Not sure what to make of that.

Mens Basketball: I am not particularly impressed by winning the gold. It’s astonishing that we haven’t won it every time for the last twenty years. I am impressed by the number of players we have who have first names for last names.

Boozer, Carlos – No (but a great nickname)
Kidd, Jason – No (but a good nickname)
James, LeBron – Yes
Williams, Deron – No (but if you drop the “s”, William counts)
Redd, Michael – No (I don’t count Red Aurebach as legit)
Wade, Dwayne – Yes
Bryant, Kobe – Yes
Howard, Dwight – Yes
Bosh, Chris – No
Paul, Chris – Yes
Prince, Tayshaun – No
Anthony, Carmelo – Yes

That’s 6 out of 12, and a couple more borderline cases for bonus points. On the other hand, how many of them have normal first names?

Boozer, Carlos – Yes
Kidd, Jason – Yes
James, LeBron – No
Williams, Deron – No
Redd, Michael – Yes
Wade, Dwayne – Yes, but what’s with the spelling?
Bryant, Kobe – No
Howard, Dwight – Yes
Bosh, Chris – Yes
Paul, Chris – Yes
Prince, Tayshaun – No
Anthony, Carmelo – No

Only 7 out of 12! We almost have as many people with normal first names in their last name, than in the first name! (Got that?)

An Activist Idiot

The NYT Business section today has an article about repaying student loans. It’s a good article. It points out how student loans are a special category of loans that come with a higher burden than others. Bankruptcy usually doesn’t get rid of them. The lender can garnish wages, and the government can hold back stimulus checks and social security payments.

On the other hand, they featured Alan Collinge as the face of those fighting to change this. It’s unfortunate he’s an incredibly narcissistic moron.

Mr. Collinge said he did not set out to be a student loan activist. But he backed himself into a corner in his research job at the California Institute of Technology in 2001 by asking for a raise. When he did not get one, he quit. He said he found himself underemployed and gradually overwhelmed by about $38,000 in federal student loans; his lender wouldn’t grant a forbearance, he said. He had borrowed to study toward his two degrees and a certification, all in aerospace engineering, at the University of Southern California. He went into default in 2001, and over the next three years his debt, with interest and fees, grew to $100,000.

He couldn’t get a raise, so he quit. With two degrees and a certification, he couldn’t find another job, and went into default that same year. Maybe he shouldn’t have quit in the first place?

Representatives of loan companies are not fond of Mr. Collinge’s tactics. He has called loan company executives at home to criticize their corporate policies, and sent the occasional profanity-laced e-mail message to lender advocates.

Mr. Collinge acknowledges that at least some of the e-mail messages and phone calls he has made were inappropriate, but he maintains that the sentiments expressed were genuine. His words may simply reflect the resentment of thousands of borrowers who are too embarrassed to talk about their debts publicly.

Calling them at home is just being a jackass. And this may be my favorite sentence ever, “Mr. Collinge acknowledges that at least some of the e-mail messages and phone calls he has made were inappropriate, but he maintains that the sentiments expressed were genuine.” Oh, they were genuine! Well that makes it okay then! As long as he thought the loan companies really were &*(#$(!!”:;!&%ers who should all be thrown in a blender, it’s allright. Maintains they were genuine indeed.

What did they do to get the phone calls?

The Education Department said in a statement Friday that it and others had tried to work with Mr. Collinge, and in February 2008 offered to waive accrued interest and fees.

Ah. That was certainly evil of them.

It’s good to see that he’s at least trying to pay off his loans. I’m sure he’s just working on the website in his spare time, and harassing executives in odd minutes here and there.

To raise awareness of student loans, he embarked last year on a trip that took him through 42 states in an effort to meet with staff members of every lawmaker on the Senate and House education committees. Money raised by his PAC has not yet covered his costs, and the R.V. he drove (and is now trying to sell) still bears scars of the trip.

Um, what? Instead of getting a job he travels the country, losing money the whole time? Is this for real?

Mr. Collinge has devoted himself full time to learning about student loans and has supported himself with various jobs; this year he spent a few months working for a landscaping business, for example, and received an $8,000 advance for a book on student loans.

Good to know he’s learning about student loans — seven years after defaulting on his. He doesn’t get credit for supporting himself with various jobs. That’s life. Congratulations on the advance… I wonder if he knows that advances have to paid back eventually? Oh, by the way, “He takes salsa and tango classes and goes bicycling in a park overlooking Puget Sound.” GET A JOB, YA BUM!

He’s had a lot of problems paying his loans back, and he’s spent an awful lot of time out there talking about his problems rather than trying to pay his loans back,” said Tom Joyce, a spokesman for Sallie Mae. Student loans raise serious issues, Mr. Joyce said, “but he’s just the wrong poster child.”

That’s the truth. What an idiot.

Olympics VII

Beach Volleyball: You gotta hand it to the ladies. That is one amazing streak. They really did look unbeatable. In fact, they didn’t lose a single game on their way to the gold medal. That’s impressive. The men may have had a loss along the way but they certainly earned that gold. Phil Dalhausser really is an incredible player. His height masks how good he is. It’s easy to think he there’s just because he’s 6’9″, but he chases down loose balls, serves like a monster, and sets ever so sweetly. If I had been 8 inches taller, I would have been Todd Rogers. I was sneaky the same way. I suppose I had to be, I could barely get over the net even in my best days.

Speed walking: A ridiculous sport. The athletes look like overgrown ducks. Sure it takes athletic skill, traveling 20K is always difficult. But that doesn’t make it a sport worthy of the Olympics. This is like being the best flashlight tag player in the world. I understand that you’re the top of your profession but it’s a dumb profession. As a side note, I’m surprised this is not a sport that can get you a college scholarship. Seems like it would be a good way for schools to meet their Title IX obligations.

Synchronized swimming: Like every red-blooded american male, I have heaped no end of scorn on this sad sad excuse for a sport. I must admit though that I really enjoyed the team version this time around. I was blown away by how high they throw each other without being allowed to use the bottom of the pool for leverage. I could still only watch two routines, but that’s two more than I expected.

False starts: The rules need a little revision. Right now there is an incentive to false start because you can mess with other runners at no cost to yourself. If you false start you should be disqualified, end of story.

Relay Race: Oh c’mon America. How many years are we going to blow it this way. Look, if this was the gold medal race that would be one thing. But this is a qualifying round. The top four teams make it. When you are already in the lead you should be making absolutely sure that the pass goes smoothly even if it costs you a couple tenths of a second. Simply unforgiveable.

Olympics Links o’ Interest:
Sex at Olympics Village

Incredible panoramic picture of Bejing Olympic Stadium just before the 100M dash.

The IOC is investigating the age of some of the Chinese gymnasts. If China was trying to show a new face to the world, it’s not working very well.

Links o’ Interest

So many links, so little time.

Ice-Scream

Tapestry-shopped

Greatest Prank ever, it’s on you America!

Ikea meets Escher

Telescopic Text

I’ve been a loser since I was 12 years old

Top 10 Olsen Twin jokes from the Bob Saget roast. Say what you want about Gilbert Godfried, he never pushes the boundaries of good taste.

Watch for bikes

What’s wrong with this layout?

Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Peter Pan arrested

A line has been crossed with this commercial

The Pick-up Artist gets sued. But not for what you think.

25 Sesame Street Celeb Visits

I’m leaning towards… The rest of their cards are funny also. (E-cards, when you care enough to hit “send”)

Worst defense ever – GOP senator burns himself with Maher

FAQ on USB 3.0.

Wow! Amazing computer generated facial animations. I literally can’t tell this from real.

Spaghetti Cat

Constant Setting: a real time display of Flickr sunsets from cities where the sun is setting at the moment.

In praise of Paris Hilton

Drawings by Mike McGrath of his Vietnamese captivity. (Many of them look identical to our current “enhanced interrogation” techniques)

Is McCain another Bush?

Using the Socratic method to teach binary arithmetic to 3rd graders. This transcript is great.

IM conversation of the democratic VP hopefuls

Links o’ Interest

Warning: Home Depot Scam

Obama about to punch McCain

9/11 divorce

A light show with building windows. Must be computer controlled, right?

If he dies, it will be in style

More political music mashups. Obama, Bush, and Tony Blair.

That skyscraper in Dubai, 2008. Wow.

Hockey fan karma, he gets his

Who is Jennifer!?

Stock investing in a nutshell

Insanely steep stairs

What do McCain and Obama’s blogs have in common?

What kind of economist are you? I’m a Liberal Neo-Classicist (Rubinomics)

What else could we have gotten with the $3 trillion spend on Iraq?

Why Tuesday? The movement to make voting on a weekend. The origin of why we currently vote on a Tuesday is fascinating.

In 1845, before Florida, California, and Texas were states or slavery had been abolished, Congress needed to pick a time for Americans to vote. We were an agrarian society. We traveled by horse and buggy. Farmers needed a day to get to the county seat, a day to vote, and a day to get back, without interfering with the three days of worship. So that left Tuesday and Wednesday, but Wednesday was market day. So, Tuesday it was. In 1875 Congress extended the Tuesday date for national House elections and in 1914 for federal Senate elections.

Infographic comparing McCain and Obama tax plans

Poker Update

The cards didn’t run great, but I had a few good hands. My premium hands held up in big pots. I didn’t bad beat anyone, they didn’t bad beat me. Nothing special. Ended up in third place for $60, which is pretty good for eleven people and five rebuys.

Running Total: $86

Olympics VI

They showed 90 seconds of the hammer throw. 90 seconds! That’s the kind of event I want ten minutes on.

I wish they’d set up some of the events more. I love volleyball, but they don’t even tell you when you’re watching a gold medal match or a pool qualifying round. It’s pathetic enough that we have to watch trials and heats of some of these events at the expense of other sports, could they at least tell us what’s going on?

Olympic Edition Links o’ Interest:
The 5 moments from the opening ceremony China doesn’t want you to remember.

Proving the Chinese gymansts are 14, a Google detective story. Part One and Two.

The real medal count, minus the events with subjective judging.

The funniest? sweetest? most pathetic? swimming trial.

The very young Michael Phelps

Seriously Phelps, watch the attitude

Olympics V

(Almost caught up… only a few hours behind)

I feel like I should say something about Phelps. I can’t think of anything. It’s amazing he’s incredible and so on. I was desperately hoping Mark Spitz would launch into a tirade on national TV about how shabbily he’s been treated and Phelps is overrated and is his day they didn’t have these crazy swimsuits etc. No such luck.

I don’t like his Mom and her reactions after the wins. Sure she’s proud. Sure she’s happy. But surprised? Astonished? Mouth hanging open like Mother Teresa just parachuted in? No. It’s Michael Phelps for goodness sakes, half of these races he hasn’t lost for years. Get over it and show a hair of dignity.

When Phelps retires, do you think he’ll gain 80 pounds in the first year? He’s been eating such huge amounts of food for years. Maybe he’ll have a second career as a Subway spokesman.

At last they’re showing minor sports. I’ve just watched shotputting (awesome) indoor cycling (awesome) and badmitton (not so awesome). During badmitton the announcer said of a winning point, “It hits the tape and lands like a butterfly with sore feet!” Ah, the poetry of badmitton.

I like the heptathalon. There really is something amazing about being so good in a variety of sports. The strange one is shot putting. “Ok, you have to run fast, run fast again, run while jumping over something, jump high, jump long… and it says here you’re supposed to huck this big rock as far as you can.” I think they should have more variety. They should compete in a round of golf, slam dunk contest, uneven bars, kayaking, darts, the dozens, Magic, World of Warcraft, rock paper scissors, etc. And of course the shotput.

I just watched a commercial for Bounty. The family discussed how many sheets it would take to pick up the spill they had just made. In the corner it said, “Not a competitive claim”. What does that mean? I think it means they’re lying and you aren’t allowed to hold them to what they’re saying. Has there ever been another ad to say this?

Equestrian: It’s funny that it all takes place in Hong Kong, 1200 miles away from the action. It’s like the organizers said, “You really want to do the whole horses thing? Okay… but we’re not having you weirdos near the actual athletes.” What is with the outfits? How can you call yourself a sport when you’re wearing those ridiculous red jackets? And is there any other olympic sport that depends on an animal? I think it’s kind of cool but let’s have some consistency. Add falconing and the Iditarod. Maybe some piegon shooting, enough with these clay substitutes!

Later update: They did an extended interview with Phelps and his Mom. I have to walk back my snarky comments about her. That mother did something right. Great family. Somewhere the Dad who abandoned them is kicking himself over and over and over.

Steeplechase? I like little events, but that is just plain weird. The water jump is about as random as you can get. I had a vague impression that steeplechase was something horses did. I still think I may be right.

The New Muttroxmobile

My cover as a stereotypical yuppie grows ever deeper. Yesterday I got my first luxury car (entry-level, but give me a break). I’m the proud owner of the 2005 Acura TL below.

acura

I’m starting to learn my way around the car buying thing. The last one I got the dealers to compete amongst themselves. For a new car that’s the winning strategy. It doesn’t work for used cars since they aren’t fungible. But I was finally able to use connections through work (thank you Geaster!) to get one from auction. Saved a couple thousand that way.

Ah, who cares. I got a new car. Goes fast, looks pretty. I just hope I can keep from getting pulled over for speeding before I get the official tags and insurance.

Anyone want to buy a used VW Passat? Very low mileage, but some child-related food stains that won’t come out and a nagging feeling that the whole thing is going to fall apart within a couple months…

Olympics IV

Nope, those Chinese gymansts are not 16. Who’ve thunk it? The interesting part is that there is nothing to be done about it. If China says they’re 16 that’s the end of the story. If we call China a liar we get nowhere.

Why do divers shower after every dive? To keep their muscles loose. What is the little jet of water at the side of the pool for? It creates small ripples that gives divers visual cues to see where the surface of the pool is.

Did you see the coverage about the weightlifter who turned his arm backwards? Good gory stuff.

backwards elbow

I need to update my sport ranking system with a new criteria. To whatever degree a sport is judged on artistic merit, it isn’t a sport. Art is fine, but it isn’t sport. I tuned it to an equestarian event yesterday. There was no jumping and galloping or turning, it was just showing off the horses. Like a dog show — that’s an Olympic sport? Figure skating requires enormous athleticism but the costumes and the emoting take away from the sport. Likewise girls gymnastics with the little freaky dance moves in the middle of floor exercises and all the garbage with the ribbon. That ain’t sports. If you want to do that stuff, aim for this, not the Olympics.

Enders Game

A few of my readers may know Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It is one of the most popular and honored science fiction books ever. I loved it when I first read it. Rrereading it as an adult left me feeling disoriented, and I’ve found his other books surprisingly childish. I recently came across a pair of revealing essays about the book.

The first one draws explicit links between Ender and Hitler, claiming that Card deliberately wrote the story as an apology for Hitler. (One of her friends goes further, claiming that Card didn’t even write the book.) Card wrote a rebuttal, but it isn’t available online.

A more tempered and ultimately convincing essay from John Kessel is worth reading in full. His last section (“Why is Ender’s Game popular?”) gets at the heart of my difficulties reading Card’s fiction as an adult.

By the way, Enders Game is currently being made into a movie.

Poker Update

Bad playing, bad cards. I called all-ins 3 times, and was wrong all three times.

1) From the small blind, I raise up 3x, I have As-3s. Big blind goes all in. I’m pot committed with decent cards. He has Q-Q, I get my A for the win.
2) At 100-200, three players have limped to my big blind. I have A-10. I make a move and push it to 600. One player goes all-in for another 1150, almost all of my chips. That’s odd… he limped in and then goes all-in. Hmm… well, he could have a monster hand that he was slowplaying. Or he could have a marginal hand that he’s trying to bluff me on. He actually said, “I’m playing these and if you suck out on me so be it.”, but he’s crafty. As long as he doesn’t have me dominated I think I’m getting the right price on my money. I call. He has A-Q which holds up.
3) After a mini-comeback, I get Ah-Kd. I bet 3.5x pre-flop, one caller. The flop is all low cards. I check to him, he checks. The turn is a jack, he goes all in. Why didn’t I raise preflop? Just because I didn’t have any pairs, pffooie, I could have forced him out. Unless he had a pair. Aw hell, what do I do. He obviously has a pair of jacks. There are three hearts on the board, any heart gives me a nut flush. Assuming he has a jack that’s 15 outs, so around 30% chance to win. Maybe less, he might have A-J or K-J. I’m getting 2-1 on my money. I call. He has Q-J. I need an A, K, or heart on the river, I don’t get it, I’m knocked out.

Note to self: Perhaps playing a game that emphasizes mental discipline is not recommended when one has given blood that day.

Running total: $46