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Jul. 28 2010 — 8:43 pm | 49 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments


 You probably heard that TrueSlant has been bought by Forbes.  All of us bloggers will no longer be posting on T/S effective at the end of the month.  However, there is good news: I imported all of my content from this site over to my new one — http://catholicpol.wordpress.com

Before departing, I will thank those who made it possible for me to blog here.  They know who they are, but you don’t. They are Lewis Dvorkin, Coates Bateman, Michael Roston, Kashmir Hill, and Andrea Spiegel. And of course, I should thank you dear readers. I failed to respond to many of your post, and yet you kept reading. You should take a bow, virtual or otherwise.

Jul. 27 2010 — 6:27 pm | 91 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Second thoughts on the Democratic leadership

WASHINGTON - MARCH 26:  U.S. Speaker of the Ho...

Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

In May, I wrote that Democrats likely would keep control of the House because their leadership has been politically competent. I still stand by that analysis. Certainly Speaker Pelosi and her team have been more astute than Speaker Hastert and his cohorts were in 2006, which admittedly is a low bar to claim.

Yet I will concede an obvious point: I ought to have qualified my conclusion more than I did.

I should have noted that Pelosi and co. made passing health care reform more difficult than necessary by passing the bill in the House before the Senate. By going that route, she ensured that House Democrats would be forced to take a tough vote on the public option, which progressives like but conservatives and many independents loathe.

And certainly I should have noted, as Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray did today, that Pelosi relived the 1993 BTU-tax debacle by passing cap and trade in the House without getting assurance that the Senate would even take the bill up for a vote. Voting for a carbon tax will not play well in the Rust Belt, states that have been hit hard by the recession and are the home of manufacturing plants (though a version of the bill seeks to exempt such plants). As Kane and Murray wrote of Pelosi’s political maneuvering,

Pelosi won over wavering Democrats such as Boccieri and Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio), Baron P. Hill (Ind.) and Zack Space ((Ohio) — each of whom faces a difficult reelection — after intense negotiations designed to soften the blow of the initial proposal. The House bill would place new production costs on power plants, factories and oil refineries, requiring U.S. emissions to decline 17 percent by 2020. Creating a commodities market, the bill would require polluters to buy “credits” to cover their emissions; Midwestern farmers, among others, could sell “offsets” for pollutants they didn’t emit.

But lofty talk about the securing the future of the planet is not likely to win over many voters who have lost their jobs.

In Boccieri’s northeastern Ohio district, the manufacturing decline has been sharp and painful. Ten years ago, there were 45,000 manufacturing jobs in the Canton-Massillon region. By spring, the number had been cut nearly in half, to 24,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Boccieri said he knows his constituents are focused on the present. “All the average voter wants to know is, ‘When my refrigerator is on, are my rates going to be lower or higher?’ “

I continue to think that the conventional wisdom in Washington that Republicans are all but guaranteed to take over the House is wrong. Let’s see if the GOP can put up a sufficient number of strong, well-funded challengers. I’m doubtful. But hey, in politics anything can happen in three months.

Jul. 21 2010 — 7:16 pm | 41 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Should Catholics oppose the meritocracy?

Photograph showing Attorney General Robert F. ...

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 Ross Douthat doesn’t like the American meritocracy. Like Christopher Lasch and Front Porch Republic, he believes that it is intellectually conformist, saps local communities of their intellectual vitality, and prevents rival power centers from emerging. He just doubts that dethroning or overthrowing it is possible:

[C]entralization is very difficult to roll back … some sort of broad national elite is probably here to stay, and … given those premises it may make more sense to create more room for real diversity within that elite — by holding meritocracy to its professed ideals — than to hope vainly for a localist revolution that undercuts the ruling class’s political and cultural authority …

This sounds to me like pessimism disguised as realism. Rolling back centralization is difficult, but less so than this paragraph assumes. Until the economic crisis, federal spending as a share of GDP had declined since 1980. Individual federal tax rates are lower than 30 years ago. Yes, Uncle Sam is fighting more wars today than three decades ago and everyone is connected to a computer. But as recent history suggests, centralization has hardly been an unstoppable force. It can and has been stopped and reversed.

The more interesting question to me is whether the national elite that Ross identifies, the meritocratic elite, should be opposed. (His analysis of our elite, as well as that of Angelo Codevilla and Andrew Sullivan, equates the meritocratic elite with the entire American elite. In fact, as Nicholas Lemann showed, there are two other elites in America vying with the meritocrats). For Catholics, I think the answer is yes.

Look at what the last four decades of American history have wrought. Catholics once ran the country. They controlled the Democratic Party. They controlled the big cities. And they controlled Hollywood. Today Catholics run none of those institutions.

Guess who overthrew them? The meritocrats did. Sure, the talents helped take away Catholics’ control of the big cities. And more importantly, American Catholicism has withered for institutional and intellectual reasons. Yet the meritocrats played a major role. The result, though beneficial to many Jews and women, has been to make America a more secular and socially liberal country.

If American Catholics want to restore the best parts of the old order, such as that existed in the mid-sixties, when blacks had achieved civil rights and popular culture brought lowbrow and highbrow together, they should consider taking on the meritocrats.  Some American Catholic leaders, perhaps most notably Bishop David O’Connell, the former president of Catholic university, recognized the moral problems of meritocracy and rebuilt Catholic institutions accordingly. Others have only their mortarboards from elite schools and hosannas from the meritocratic class to lose.

Jul. 20 2010 — 7:15 pm | 203 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

How the Wall Street Journal misunderstands jobless benefits

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page won’t be happy that this afternoon the Senate voted to extend jobless benefits another 27 weeks. It argued this morning that any such extension would only keep Americans out of work:

In the immediate policy case, Democrats are going so far as to subsidize more unemployment. If you subsidize something, you get more of it. So if you pay people not to work, they often decide . . . not to work. Or at least to delay looking or decline a less than perfect job offer, holding out for something else that may or may not materialize.

The editorial cited the work of three economists to bolster its case, but let me discuss their findings later. The key sentence in this paragraph is the following: “If you subsidize something, you get more of it.” That’s the heart of the editorial page’s argument. Everything flows from that statement. Yes, that assertion is qualified, but it is also restated in the final paragraph, the editorial criticizing the Obama administration for “paying people not to work.”

“If you subsidize something, you get more of it” sounds like a strong argument. It’s simple and clear. But stop to think whether it’s true. Certainly professional baseball and basketball players today are compensated much more handsomely today, as are many artists (authors, musicians, actors) Yet are baseball players superior to their counterparts in the 1950s and ‘60s or writers better than those of the 1920s? Few would argue that they are. Or let’s use an analogy of quantity rather than quality. Certainly the federal government spends more money on defense today, as a share of its budget, than it did during the height of the Korean and Vietnam wars. Yet does Uncle Sam have more troops than it did then or more defense broadly defined? The answer is not so simple.

In the case of unemployment benefits, the link between them and more joblessness is not ironclad. The WSJ editorial cited the recent findings of JP Morgan analyst Michael Feroli to conclude that extending jobless aide increases the jobless rate by 1.5 percentage points. But recent history does not support this claim. As the WSJ reported, the jobless rate in June actually fell in most states, a drop that occurred at a time when jobless benefits are relatively generous. Going back further in time, The Economist noted a similarly weak correlation:

Of the 47 weeks in emergency benefits enacted during this recession, only 20 of them had been passed into law by late 2009, at which point the unemployment rate was plateauing. Since the last 27 week extension, the unemployment rate has actually ticked downward. It therefore doesn’t make sense to argue that emergency unemployment benefit extensions can be blamed for 1.5% of the increase in the unemployment rate from 5% to 10.1%.

Granted, few economists argue that extending jobless benefits lowers the jobless rate. But debates about unemployment benefits are really a sideshow. The problem with the economy is not weak labor supply. It’s weak labor demand. Few employers are hiring. As Scott Winship wrote,

So as I’ve been following the debate about unemployment insurance and whether it actually worsens the unemployment rate, I’ve actually been open to the idea that being able to receive benefits for up to two years might create perverse incentives.  The research is not as uniformly dismissive of the idea as some liberal assessments have implied (go to NBER’s website and search the working papers for “unemployment” if you want to check this out yourself).

In particular, the idea that there were 5 people looking for work for every job opening struck me as sounding overly alarmist.  So I started looking into the numbers to determine whether I thought they were reliable.  The figures folks are using rely on a survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which unfortunately only goes back to December of 2000.  But the Conference Board has put out estimates of the number of help wanted ads since the 1950s.  Through mid-2005, the estimates were based on print ads, as far as I can tell, but the Conference Board then switched to monitoring online ads.  You can find the monthly figures for print ads here and the ones for online ads here.  The JOLT and unemployment figures are relatively easy to find at BLS’s website.

When I graphed the two Conference Board series (which requires some indexing to make them consistent–the print ad series being an index pegged to 1987 while the online series gives the actual number of ads) against the number of unemployed, and then the JOLT series against the unemployed, here’s what I found:

I’ll just say I was shocked and that I am much more sympathetic to extension of unemployment insurance than I was yesterday.


Winship’s argument undercuts the conclusions of Lawrence Katz and Raj Chetty, the two Obama-friendly economists that the WSJ cited as proof of intellectual duplicity. Winship shows that this economy really is bad for workers. In fact, it’s the worst since the 1950s at least.

The WSJ editorial makes a persuasive and clear case. Its arguments just happen to be off base.

Jul. 14 2010 — 4:21 pm | 100 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

How Larry Ellison can save the NBA’s worst franchise

Under soon-to-be ex owner Chris Cohan, the Warriors might have been the sports franchise most out of touch with its community, although the Raiders would have come in a close second. Ticket prices soared in a city with a poverty rate of 18 percent. The team played in San Jose for two years while the Oakland Coliseum was being remodeled. The team went to the playoffs once in 17 years, in a region that’s hungry for a winner. And over the last decade, the atmosphere at games has changed from that of Yoshi’s. Oh, the Warriors came out to play, but you often didn’t know why, where, or how.

Larry Ellison, the Oracle founder who reportedly will buy the team, would seem to be the last person to ground the franchise in the community. He took over companies, including that of a friend’s, and kicked most of their employees to the curb. He is nobody’s idea of Mr. Nice Guy; in fact, he is my idea of Mr. Mean (and no, that Mr. Mean). He loves yachting. Photographs often feature him scowling. And he is mega-billionaire.

And yet, like the Chronicle’s great Peter Hartlaub, I think Elllison could revive our beloved and woebegone Warriors. As Hartlaub writes,

The greatest friend of a sports fan is an incredibly rich owner with a huge ego who gets angry easily, takes defeat personally and loves living in the region. Larry Ellison with his Oracle billions is an incredible five-for-five. It’s like genetic scientists created this man to own the Warriors, combining Mark Cuban’s enthusiasm for sports, Paul Allen’s money and Genghis Khan’s instinct to behead anything that gets in his way. Best of all, this is a guy who appears to have spent much of his life motivated by vengeance. And if the late George Steinbrenner taught us nothing, vengeance wins championships.

Hartlaub makes a bunch of good suggestions to improve the franchise, such as not moving the team to San Francisco, its original Bay Area home, and bringing back Greg Papa. (No, Papa is not well known nationally, but the local reference is unavoidable). In this spirit, I will offer two more suggestions:

Change the name to the Oakland Warriors. Just saying the name feels good. It’s poetic and weirdly appropriate. Even more important, this new name would ground the team in the city in which it plays all of its games. This isn’t the the 1960s and ’70s. The team is no longer playing in San Diego, Palm Springs, or San Francisco. (The team actually played in two different venues in The City, at the Cow Palace and the Civic Auditorium, a situation that made it difficult for even die-hard fans like my dad to wonder where the hell was playing that night). It plays in Oakland. The team’s new name should reflect that reality.

Bring back kids hoops at halftime. As I mentioned earlier, the atmosphere at Warriors game before the game and at halftime resemble nothing so much as that of a sexed-up jazz nightclub. The band strikes up, the singer belts out her tunes, and the Floridians-ball-girls-cum-Warriors Girls do their thing. Yes, the Bay Area is a haven for singles, but the region at night is not one big lounge. Plenty of couples have children, so let local kids run around at halftime on the court and hoop it up like they once did. Unless my memory is faulty, fans got a big kick out of seeing 10- and 12-year-old boys and girls steal the ball, go up for a lay up, miss, and repeat the whole scenario. Basketball was brought back to its roots. So should the Warriors franchise.

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    About Me

    Mark Stricherz is the author of Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party (Encounter Books, 2007). He was born in San Francisco in 1970 and raised in the Bay Area. He graduated from Santa Clara University and the University of Chicago (M.A. in Social Sciences, '97). In between, he worked, as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, for an inner-city housing agency in Baton Rouge, La. His work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, The New Republic, and The Weekly Standard, among other publications. He, his wife, and two daughters live in the Washington, D.C. region.

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