Tag Archives: American Enterprise Institute

All Your Best Blog Posts On That Economic Policy Institute’s Study

Ezra Klein:

“Republicans say that public-sector employees have become a privileged class that overburdened taxpayers,” write Karen Tumulty and Brady Dennis. The question, of course, is whether it’s true. Consider this analysis the Economic Policy Institute conducted comparing total compensation — that is to say, wages and health-care benefits and pensions — among public and private workers in Wisconsin. To get an apples-to-apples comparison, the study’s author controlled for experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship and disability, and then sorted the results by education

[…]

If you prefer it in non-graph form: “Wisconsin public-sector workers face an annual compensation penalty of 11%. Adjusting for the slightly fewer hours worked per week on average, these public workers still face a compensation penalty of 5% for choosing to work in the public sector.”

Jim Manzi at The American Scene:

Klein links to an executive summary to support his claim, but reading the actual paper by Jeffrey H. Keefe is instructive. Keefe took a representative sample of Wisconsin workers, and built a regression model that relates “fundamental personal characteristics and labor market skills” to compensation, and then compared public to private sector employees, after “controlling” for these factors. As far as I can see, the factors adjusted for were: years of education; years of experience; gender; race; ethnicity; disability; size of organization where the employee works; and, hours worked per year. Stripped of jargon, what Keefe asserts is that, on average, any two individuals with identical scores on each of these listed characteristics “should” be paid the same amount.

But consider Bob and Joe, two hypothetical non-disabled white males, each of whom went to work at Kohl’s Wisconsin headquarters in the summer of 2000, immediately after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. They have both remained there ever since, and each works about 50 hours per week. Bob makes $65,000 per year, and Joe makes $62,000 per year. Could you conclude that Joe is undercompensated versus Bob? Do you have enough information to know the “fundamental personal characteristics and labor market skills” of each to that degree of precision? Suppose I told you that Bob is an accountant, and Joe is a merchandise buyer.

Even if Bob and Joe are illustrative stand-ins for large groups of employees for whom idiosyncratic differences should average out, if there are systematic differences in the market realities of the skills, talents, work orientation and the like demanded by accountants as compared to buyers, then I can’t assert that either group is underpaid or overpaid because the average salary is 5% different between these two groups.

And this hypothetical example considers people with a degree from the same school working in the same industry at the same company in the same town, just in different job classifications. Keefe is considering almost any full-time employee in Wisconsin with the identical years of education, race, gender, etc. as providing labor of equivalent market value, whether they are theoretical physicists, police officers, retail store managers, accountants, salespeople, or anything else. Whether they work in Milwaukee, Madison, or a small town with a much lower cost of living. Whether their job is high-stress or low-stress. Whether they face a constant, realistic risk of being laid off any given year, or close to lifetime employment. Whether their years of education for the job are in molecular biology, or the sociology of dance. Whether they do unpredictable shift work in a factory, or 9 – 5 desk work in an office with the option to telecommute one day per week.

Keefe claims – without adjusting for an all-but infinite number of such relevant potential differences between the weight-average public sector worker and the weight-average private sector worker – that his analysis is precise enough to ascribe a 5% difference in compensation to a public sector compensation “penalty.”

And his use of the statistical tests that he claims show that the total public-private compensation gap is “statistically significant” are worse than useless; they are misleading. The whole question – as is obvious even to untrained observers – is whether or not there are material systematic differences between the public and private employee that are not captured by the list of coefficients in his regression model. His statistical tests simply assume that there are not.

I don’t know if Wisconsin’s public employees are underpaid, overpaid, or paid just right. But this study sure doesn’t answer the question.

Jason Richwine at Heritage:

Manzi is referring to “the human capital model,” which holds that workers are paid according to their skills and personal characteristics, like education and experience. Most scholars—including Andrew, myself, and Heritage’s James Sherk—use it to compare the wages of the public and private sectors. If the public sector still earns more than the private after controlling for a variety of factors, then it is said to be “overpaid” in wages. But because we cannot control for everything, Manzi is saying, the technique is not very useful.

His critique is reasonable enough, but overwrought. The human capital model has been around for three decades, and it is unlikely that economists have failed to uncover important variables that would drastically change its results. Nevertheless, there are other techniques that address most of Manzi’s concerns. An upcoming Heritage Foundation report uses a “fixed effects” approach, which follows the same people over time as they switch between the private and federal sectors. By looking at how the same person’s wage changes when he moves between sectors, a lot of unobservable traits—intelligence, extroversion, etc.—are accounted for.

In order to capture fringe benefits as well as wages, economists have also used quit rates and job queues. If public workers quit less often than private workers, we can infer (with some qualifications, of course) that there are not better options available to them. Similarly, if many more applicants apply for government jobs than there are positions—creating a “queue”—then we know that government jobs are highly desirable. Of course no methodology is perfect, but the scholarly literature can tell us a lot about pay comparisons. Andrew and I discussed this work in detail in a recent Weekly Standard article.

John Sides:

From one perspective, sure, I agree that a statistical analysis of the sort described above based on observational data can never be a true direct comparison. (Not to mention the difficulty of classifying people like me who work in the quasi-public sector.) But if you take things from the other direction, this sort of study can be valuable.

What do I mean by “the other direction,” you might ask? I mean, suppose you start, as people do, with raw numbers: Salary plus benefits = X% of the state budget. The state has Y number of employees. Average income of all Wisconsinites is Z. Then you start adjusting for hours worked, ages of the employees, etc etc, and . . . you end up with Keefe’s analysis.

My point is, people are going to make some comparisons. Comparisons aren’t so dumb as long as you realize their limitations. And once you start to compare, it makes sense to try to compare comparable cases. Taking Manzi’s criticism too strongly would leave us in the position of allowing raw numbers, and allowing pure unblemished randomized experiments, but nothing in between.

In summary:

1. Manzi’s right to emphasize that a simplistic interpretation of regression results can be misleading.

2. Regressions of observational data can be a good way of going beyond raw comparisons and averages.

Some of this discussion reminds me of the literature on the wage premium for risk, where people run regressions on salaries for comparable jobs in order to estimate how much people need to be paid to risk death or injury.. Based on my reading is that these studies can’t be trusted: if you’re not careful, you can easily estimate the value of life to be negative–after all, the riskiest jobs (lumberjack, etc.) tend to pay poorly, while the best-paying jobs (being Bill Gates, etc.) are pretty safe gigs. With care, you can get those regressions to give reasonable coefficients in the range of $1 million per life, but I don’t really see these numbers as meaning anything at all; they’re just the results of fiddling with the models until something reasonable comes out. I’m not saying that the people who do these analyses are cheating, just that they want reasonable results but the models seem too open-ended to be a good measure of risk premiums.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

Am I certain Keefe is right? No. Having spent some time reporting on public and private sector compensation before, I can tell you that there is a lot of disagreement over the proper way to adjust the raw compensation figures to account for variables like age, education, and so on. (The debate is as much philosophical as methodological: Some conservatives argue that public employers put an artificial premium on graduate education, effectively paying more for degrees that don’t make workers better qualified.) I haven’t seen a specific refutation of Keefe’s report on Wisconsin, but if you want to read an analysis that suggests public workers, in general, are over-compensated, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute has done work along those lines–and has a new article in the Weekly Standard summarizing his views.

But I wonder if this whole debate misses the point. Suppose public workers really do make more than private sector workers. Who’s to say that the problem is public workers making too much, rather than private sector workers making too little?

Andrew Biggs at AEI:

While we’ll have a longer piece out on Wisconsin pay soon, I figured that in response to Cohn’s post I’d raise a couple issues regarding EPI’s report.

First, we’ve found a lower salary penalty for Wisconsin public employees than EPI did (around -5 percent versus -11 percent in EPI’s study). It’s not clear what’s driving the difference, since we’re using the same data, but that’s something to track down. It’s also worth noting that both our calculations and EPI’s control for firm size; this means that essentially we’re comparing Wisconsin public employees not to all private workers, but to employees at the very largest Wisconsin firms, who tend to pay more generous salaries and benefits. Whether to control for firm size is an open question, since if a given public employee didn’t work for the government there’s a good chance he wouldn’t work at a large private firm. But readers at least should be aware of the issue.

Second, the benefits shown in the EPI report aren’t actually for Wisconsin alone. They’re an average for the “East North Central Census Division,” which comprises Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t publish compensation data at the state level (due to small sample sizes) regional figures are the best we’ve got. The problem is, if Wisconsin government workers get relatively better benefits than public employees in other states—which seems to be part of the argument that Governor Walker is making—then these figures will understate true compensation. For instance, in practice Wisconsin public employees make essentially no contribution toward their pensions (formally they must contribute around 5 percent of pay, but their employers almost always cover it). Nationally, public employees contribute an average of around 5.7 percent of pay to their pensions.

Third, the benefit measures in the EPI study are based on what employers pay, not what employees actually receive. This matters for public-sector defined-benefit pensions, which use much more optimistic investment return assumptions than private pensions (a 7.8 percent assumed return in the Wisconsin Retirement System, versus around a 4 percent riskless return in U.S. Treasury securities) and fund their benefits accordingly. Most economists think public pensions are wrong to make these assumptions, but what matters is that employees effectively receive those higher returns whether the investments pan out or not. Adjusting for the differences in implicit returns to pensions would increase total Wisconsin compensation by around 4 percent.

Fourth, and related, is that the EPI study omits the value of retiree health benefits, which most public workers receive but most private employees don’t. (Some very large firms still offer retiree health benefits, but they’re increasingly rare and increasingly stingy.) The value of retiree healthcare can vary significantly. For instance, most run-of-the-mill Wisconsin state retirees are offered the right to buy into the employee plan. This provides an implicit subsidy, since they’re buying at rates calculated for the working-age population rather than their own health risk. The value of this is equal to a percent or so of extra pay every year. Other employees, such as Milwaukee teachers, have almost all their premiums paid for them. Actuarial reports list these protections as costing over 17 percent of salaries, meaning that for these workers EPI’s approach would miss a lot of benefit income. In addition, even these actuarial studies value retiree health coverage at employer cost, not the benefit to the employee. A retired 60-year-old purchasing coverage in the individual market would pay significantly more than the reported cost of his public-sector retiree health plan, because individual coverage costs more than group coverage. Some studies place the cost differential at around 25 percent; the Congressional Budget Office’s health insurance model appears to assume something larger: they say that “once differences in the characteristics of nongroup versus ESI [employer sponsored insurance] policyholders are considered and different loading costs are considered, a typical nongroup policy has roughly 60 percent of the relative plan value of an average ESI policy. That finding is supported by a recent survey of nongroup and ESI premiums and relative plan values in California.” So we know something is being missed and we have good reason to believe that even when we find actuarial reports calculating the cost of retiree health coverage, it’s still an underestimate. Unfortunately, there’s no central data source for retiree health benefits, meaning there’s a lot of digging to get a correct answer.

Fifth, the EPI report doesn’t calculate the value of public-sector job security. In a given year, a state/local worker has less than one-third the chance of being fired or laid off as a private worker. There’s a long history in economics (back to Adam Smith, actually) of thinking in terms of “compensating wage differentials,” although it’s only in the last 20 years or so that there’s been much progress in measuring them. We took a somewhat different approach, of using financial tools to calculate the price of an insurance policy that would protect against job loss and counting the value of that insurance toward public-sector pay. In theory each should produce the same answer, but as always things are messy. There may be a way of using CPS data to get on top of this, though.

At the end of the day, I just don’t think we can make any final conclusions on state/local pay because so much of the data, particularly on the benefits end, is still too loosey-goosey. There’s just more work to be done. (At the federal level, though, the measured overpayment is so large that I’m willing to say I’m convinced.)

Ezra Klein, responding to Manzi:

Jim Manzi has posted a critique of the Economic Policy Institute’s study (PDF) suggesting that Wisconsin’s public-sector workers are underpaid relative to their private-sector counterparts. It basically boils down to the argument that this sort of thing is hard to measure. The study controls for most every observable worker characteristic that we can imagine controlling for. But there are, Manzi says, an “all-but-infinite” number of differences beyond that. Perhaps going into the public sector says something about a person’s level of ambition, or ability to take risks and tolerate stress, or tendency to innovate — something that, in turn, makes the private-sector worker worth more or less to the economy.

And fair enough. Maybe there is some systemic difference between Hispanic women with bachelor’s degrees and 20 years of work experience who put in 52-hour weeks in the public sector and Hispanic women with bachelor’s degrees and 20 years of work experience who put in 52-hour weeks in the private sector. If anyone has some evidence for that, I’m open to hearing it. But the EPI study is aimed at a very specific and very influential claim: that Wisconsin’s state and local employees are clearly overpaid. It blows that claim up. Even in Manzi’s critique, there’s nothing left of it. So at this point, the burden of proof is on those who say Wisconsin’s public employees make too much money.

Reihan Salam on Klein’s response:

I was struck by this sentence: “Even in Manzi’s critique, there’s nothing left of it.” I’ve known Jim for many years and I’ve read just about everything he’s written, including a few things that haven’t been published. I have never seen Jim write that Wisconsin’s state and local employees are clearly overpaid, or indeed that any employees are clearly overpaid. There are many right-wingers who’ve said that, but it’s not the way Jim has ever thought about the issue as far as I know.

I don’t want to put words in Jim’s mouth, here’s what I consider a slightly more Manzian take: the problem with public sector compensation is that there is often very little clarity in terms of whether or not taxpayers are getting a good deal. One of the big reasons right-wingers are so hot for merit pay, based on my limited experience, is that they’re generally pretty comfortable with the idea of at least some public workers making much more than they are making now, provided other workers who’d be willing to work for less because they’re not likely to attract better offers are either paid less or fired.

Let me underline this point: Some public workers, like really great federal procurement officers, might very well be “underpaid,” in that they’re always on the verge of jumping ship to better opportunities, they’re stressed about money all the time when they could be using their awesome Jedi procurement skills to save taxpayers money, and we could attract other awesome people to do this job if only we weren’t such tightwads. Others might be “overpaid,” in that there are people who really like the stability of working for a “firm” that will, short of invasion and military conquest, probably exist for at least another ten years and would be open to working for a bit less money if they had no choice in the matter. Do you think we have more of the former than the latter? That’s where analyses like Keefe’s come in, to offer a rough guide to the conversation.

I would love for conservatives to do a better job of talking about public sector compensation. The basic conflict is whether we think of creating more jobs, work effort, etc., as our goal, or if our goal is to deliver a service. If the latter is our goal, we presumably want to do it in the most cost-effective way, so that we can devote our time, money, and energy to other things we like doing more. By extension, this suggests that we really do want to pay people as little as we can to get the things that we want. Or:

Reihan Salam says:

We really do want to pay people as little as we can to get the things that we want.

What a bozo!

This relentless process of delivering services and goods for less money really does destroy jobs, but, in theory at least, it allows us to create new ones. We happen to be living in a historical moment when there’s not a lot of faith in that idea, partly because we’ve seen a steady decline in labor force participation rates due to tangle of implicit marginal tax rates, an incarceration crisis, interrelated social pathologies, and much else. I’m biased in favor of believing that we will create new job opportunities because almost everyone I’m close to works in jobs that they could not have done in the way they do them now even ten years ago. The goal is to use good public policy to bridge over transitional periods, and, by the way, a dynamic market economy is always in a transitional period.

Manzi responds to Klein:

Klein is correct to say that my post “basically boils down to the argument that this sort of thing is hard to measure.” But he then argues that the purpose of the original study was not to demonstrate that public sector workers are underpaid, but rather to rebut the claim that they are overpaid:

[T]he EPI study is aimed at a very specific and very influential claim: that Wisconsin’s state and local employees are clearly overpaid. It blows that claim up.

That may have been the author’s motivation, but here is the final conclusion of the executive summary of the report:

[P]ublic sector workers in Wisconsin earn less in annual or hourly compensation than they would earn in the private sector.

The report makes a positive claim that it has determined a compensation “penalty” for working in the public sector, and repeats it many times. My argument was that this report does not establish whether or not this claim is true.

By the same logic, it also fails to “blow up” the claim that Wisconsin’s public workers are overpaid. The methodology is inadequate to the task of establishing whether these workers are overpaid, underpaid, or paid perfectly. As the last paragraph of my post put it:

I don’t know if Wisconsin’s public employees are underpaid, overpaid, or paid just right. But this study sure doesn’t answer the question.

Statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman has a very interesting response to my post, in which he agrees that this conclusion “sounds about right,” but cautions that the study is not “completely useless either” because this kind of adjusted comparison is better than simply comparing raw averages between public and private sector workers. I agree with that entirely. But that is, of course, a very different thing than saying that these adjustments create sufficient precision to support the bald statement, made in the report, that the author has analytically established that there is a “penalty” for working in the public sector.

Megan McArdle:

It’s obvious that this study doesn’t control for everything we can imagine, because it doesn’t even control for the matters that are of central dispute in Wisconsin: protection from being fired.  This is, as people on both sides keep noting, so extraordinarily valuable that workers are willing to give up quite a lot to get it.  And of course, a job that offers this sort of protection is likely to attract workers who especially value it.  All government jobs offer this perk, which is valuable to the workers and costly to the employers; ceteris paribus, I’d expect that other compensation would be lower to compensate.

Obviously, it also doesn’t control in any way for other job or worker characteristics that effect compensation; jobs working for state and local government are systematically different from other sorts of jobs, because so much of what the government does isn’t done by anyone else.  Though, oddly, for the teachers at the heart of this dispute, we do have a good comparison: private school teachers. And as I understand it, public school teachers have higher wages, and much better benefits, than private school teachers.
To which I expect the union’s boosters will say, “But jobs in private school are much more enjoyable–they don’t have to teach the difficult kids!”  Indeed, they’re right.  Which is exactly the point: there’s huge unobserved variable bias here.
There’s also the fact that the EPI study seems to be looking at means, which are going to be dragged upwards by a small number of highly compensated workers, particularly in the educated group.  But state and local wages are capped.  Meanwhile, some of the highest paid jobs in the private sector are in areas like commission sales, which have no counterpart in government. That means that the median worker is probably making much more than the median worker in the private sector.  This may not be true in some lucrative fields such as law and medicine–but even there, we tend to compare government lawyers to the highly paid people at white shoe firms or corporations, not the legions of struggling will-drafters and ambulance-chasers.
You can argue, of course, that this is an ideologically much more attractive income distribution.  Which highlights, I think, the core difference between the way people like Manzi and I look at this, and the way that progressives do.  I don’t think of state employment as a way to create, in miniature, my ideal labor utopia.  I think of it as a way to procure services.  I define people as being “overpaid” not if they are paid more than someone with a similar level of education, but if they are paid more than I need to entice to pay to attract adequate workers.  To analyze that, looking at medians is probably somewhat more instructive than looking at means.
Of course I agree with Manzi that this still doesn’t really tell us whether state workers are overpaid, underpaid, or just-right-paid.  I suspect that the answer is probably “both”–adjusting for worker quality, the median government worker is probably overpaid, while in skilled specialties, salaries are probably not attracting as much of the top-flight talent as we’d ideally like.  (This is why I have been advocating, futilely, that we make it possible to pay SEC employees multiples of what the President of the United States makes.)  But as Manzi, who does this stuff for a living, will undoubtedly tell you, setting compensation is a really hard problem that no one’s got a very good handle on.  So that’s just a suspicion, based on my experience of state bureaucracies, and my best guess at the incentive effects of the current structure.  I don’t have enough data to back me up.  And neither does EPI.
More Manzi:

Have I then set up a nihilistic position that we can never know anything tolerably well because I can just keep raising these points that might matter, but are not included in the model? In effect, have I put any analyst in the impossible position of proving a negative? Not really. Here’s how you measure the accuracy of a model like this without accepting its internal assumptions: use it to make predictions for future real world experiments, and then see if its predictions are right or not. The formal name for this is falsification testing. This is what’s lacking in all of the referenced arguments in support of these models.

Human capital models, fixed effects models, and other various pattern-finding analyses are useful to help build theories, but a metaphysical debate about the “worth” of various public versus private sector jobs based upon them is fundamentally unproductive. For one thing, it won’t ever end. And as Megan McArdle correctly put it, the practical question in front of us is whether we the taxpayers can procure the public work that we want at a lower cost (or more generally, though less euphoniously, whether we are at the practical optimum on the cost-quality trade-off). If you want an analytical answer to this question, here is what I would do: randomly select some jurisdictions, job classifications or other subsets of public workers, cut their compensation, and then see if we can observe a material reduction in net value of output in these areas versus the control areas. If not, cut deeper. And keep cutting deeper, until we find our indifference point.

There would be obvious limitations to this approach. First, generalizing the results of initial experiments is not straightforward. Second evaluating output is not straightforward for many areas of government. But at a minimum, and unlike the world of endlessly dueling regressions, this would at least let us see the real-world effects of various public compensation levels first-hand, and allow the public to make an informed decision about whether they prefer the net effect of a change to public sector compensation or not.

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Filed under Education, Go Meta

Statements And Resolutions… Wasn’t That A Paul Simon Song?

Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy:

The U.S. informed Arab governments Tuesday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal.

But the Palestinians rejected the American offer following a meeting late Wednesday of Arab representatives and said it is planning to press for a vote on its resolution on Friday, according to officials familar with the issue. The decision to reject the American offer raised the prospect that the Obama adminstration will cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council.

Still, the U.S. offer signaled a renewed willingness to seek a way out of the current impasse, even if it requires breaking with Israel and joining others in the council in sending a strong message to its key ally to stop its construction of new settlements. U.S. officials were not available for comment, but two Security Council diplomats confirmed the proposal.

Jennifer Rubin:

The U.S., according to an informed source on Capitol Hill, also offered “support for a UNSC fact-finding mission to the Middle East, which the Russians have been pushing.” And there was “some sort of Quartet statement that would reference the 1967 borders.” Israel, of course has made perfectly clear that 1967 borders are unacceptable, and, in any case, that this is an issue for direct negotiations. (That would be the direct negotiations that the Palestinians walked out of last fall.)

This remarkable deviation from past administrations’ treatment of Israel was not lost on Pawlenty. His spokesman provided a statement via e-mail, “The Obama administration has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations, an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for just about every problem in the Middle East. It’s time for our UN ambassador to finally show some leadership, draw a line in the sand, and defend our historic ally. Global stability depends more than ever on a respected America that is loyal to our allies and realistic about the malice of our adversaries.”

Pawlenty is exactly right. Because this administration does not want to do what its predecessors did — exercise the Security Council veto to shield Israel from one-sided resolutions seeking to isolate the Jewish state in the international community — it instead has offered to join the pack of jackals that seek, at best, to extract concessions and impose a deal on Israel and, at worst, delegitimize Israel.

Hugh Hewitt:

This is as shocking. For the president to undercut Israel even as instability mounts on all of Israel’s borders is a clear signal that Team Obama is either indifferent to Israel or incompetent beyond even its critics estimates.

The presider-in-chief is presiding over a major and unprecedented turning against Israel.  Allahpundit says it isn’t a “total sellout” of Israel, but it is a major blow to Israel at precisely the moment when Muslim radicals are wondering if they can run the board, and whether the U.S. will stand behind its long-time ally. Ben Smith has some updates.  Even if the blowback forces the U.S. to do what it ought to have done from the beginning –threaten a swift and conclusive veto on any such resolution– no supporter of Israel ought to forget that at a moment of great peril to Israel, President Obama endorsed piling on with statements of disapproval from the Security Council.   Perhaps the U.S. ought to have suggested statements of disapproval of Iran, Libya, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas were all in order first.

John Tabin at American Spectator:

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) gets it exactly right:

This is too clever by half. Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N. The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period.

This is a moment of uncertainty in the Middle East, with a wave of protest movements threatening the stability of autocrats across the region. If this leads to the opening of Arab societies, that’s a good thing in the long term (tyranny has bred radicalism; freedom is likely to breed moderation). But in the short term, a more democratic Arab world could be enormously destabilizating; people who have been fed decades of propaganda laden with Jew-hatred will be tempted to embrace a politics of confrontation with Israel. Maintaining Israel’s ability to project strength is the best bet for maintaining peace — Israel must be able to credibly say things like “You don’t like Camp David? We’ll be taking the Sinai back, then.” This is no time to be shy about reminding the world the the US has Israel’s back.

Danielle Pletka at AEI:

Hmmmm, how do we get back to a more “balanced approach”? Aha! The way we always do: Screw Israel. After all, the resolution the Palestinians are pushing is little more than cheap maneuvering. It certainly isn’t going to advance the peace. What the administration fails to appreciate is that this “feed the beast” move is going to have the effect that feeding the beast always has. It will be hungrier. So of course, the White House’s execrable “compromise” has only encouraged Israel’s (and our) enemies to up the ante. Clever.

Israel Matzav:

On Wednesday night, a couple of hours before this report broke, an Israeli Radio commentator expressed amazement that with all that’s going on in the Arab world today, the Arabs are still aggressively pursuing this resolution. After watching what has happened in Egypt, my sense is that the Wikileaks disclosures to which Omri referred reflected the views of the elites and not those of the Arabs on the street. The Arabs may be trying to save their regimes by distracting them with Israel big time. The US is apparently willing to help them out, even at the expense of throwing its most loyal ally under the bus. And the Europeans, as always, are cheering them on.

Maybe the US is hoping the ‘Palestinians’ will once again not miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity by saying that the Council statement isn’t good enough?

What could go wrong?

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Filed under International Institutions, Israel/Palestine

Hosni, Hosni, Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye

Hugh Hewitt:

Five news streams worth following today:

al Jazeera

The Guardian

The New York Times’ The Lede.

The Wall Street Journal,

Commentary Magazine’s Contentions blog, especially this post by Pete Wehner on a conversation with Paul Wolfowitz

The enormous crowds will be matched by endless torrents of commentary by folks who don’t know the players or the possible outcomes, but who are nevertheless obliged to take their turns in the anchor chairs. Yes the crowds are massive, and Egypt is an ancient country, but what is going to happen if Mubarak decamps, and is it good for Egypt, the U.S. and Israel?

Be sure as well to read the exchanges I had yesterday with Robert Kaplan (transcript here) and Andrew McCarthy (transcript here.)

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

8:46 a.m. EST / 3:46 p.m. Cairo As Egyptian protesters rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, in numbers that the New York Times estimate to be in excess of 100,000 and Al Jazeera pegged at one million, it’s still not clear if they will succeed in ousting President Hosni Mubarak and securing legitimate elections. While protesters in Tahrir Square are at their largest numbers yet, and while they enjoy a pledge from the military not to fire on civilians, Mubarak remains in power, his ministries guarded by the heavy-handed internal security forces. Key events to watch today will be whether the protesters push beyond Tahrir Square, what happens with the similar protest movement in Jordan, and whether the maneuvering within Mubarak’s inner circle leads the president toward a quiet departure.

David D. Kirkpatrick and Mark Landler at NYT:

President Obama has told the embattled president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, that he should not run for another term in elections scheduled for the fall, effectively withdrawing American support for its closest Arab ally, according to American diplomats in Cairo and Washington.

State television said that Mr. Mubarak would address the nation Tuesday evening, and it was expected that he would announce that he would not run for another term.

But it was far from certain that the concession would placate protesters in the streets of Cairo, who have made the president’s immediate and unconditional resignation a bedrock demand of their movement.

Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy:

More to come soon, but my strong hunch is that the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square will be satisfied by nothing less than Mubarak’s ouster. The Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl relayed via Twitter that Mubarak actually refused Wisner’s counsel, and the LA Timesquotes a source saying that Wisner’s message was “plainly rebuffed.”

If it’s indeed true that Mubarak is announcing that he won’t seek a 6th term — and nobody other than Al Arabiya is reporting that right now [UPDATE: Now Egyptian state TV says it will be a statement, not a speech] — it’s more than a little awkward that U.S. officials have already leaked his decision to the New York Times. Not that I have much sympathy for the old tyrant, but I don’t think the Obama team wants to be seen dictating the course of events.

That said, if Mubarak does indeed announce his retirement tonight, you can expect some fingerpointing at Obama for “losing” a key U.S. ally, thanklessly “throwing him under the bus,” and so on.

I wonder if the people making that argument will have the courage to spell out what itimplies: They would have preferred to see the Egyptian police and military kill and injure more peaceful demonstrators on the streets of a major Arab capital, on international satellite television, using U.S.-made weapons.

Because let’s be honest: that’s what it would have taken for Mubarak to remain in power. His military was refusing to enforce a curfew or fire on protesters; his police had mysteriously fled after brutally attacking them. The morality of this position aside, can you imagine the kind of blowback the United States would face in the Arab world, let alone everywhere else?

Ed Morrissey:

Fox News reports that Hosni Mubarak will address the Egyptian people on national television in a few minutes and will announce his retirement at the end of his term in office.  At the moment, Fox is just running this as a headline on their website, but Reuters reports that the speech is scheduled to take place without reporting on its content:

A million people, maybe more, rallied across Egypt on Tuesday, clamoring for President Hosni Mubarak to give up power, piling pressure on a leader who has towered over Middle East politics for 30 years to make way.

As Al Arabiya television reported that the 82-year-old former general was about to broadcast a speech, many believed the moment had come when he would announce his departure. It was not clear whether that might be immediate. Al Arabiya said it had a report he would not run in an election due in September.

The powerful, U.S.-supported army watched benignly over the biggest protests Egypt has ever seen and attention was quickly turning to what comes after Mubarak. More military rule, an Islamist surge or a reform-minded coalition for national unity all seem possible. So, too, do both order and chaos.

Why else would Mubarak speak today at the apex of the protests, with over a million people in the streets of Cairo?  It certainly sounds like some sort of concession, although Mubarak may still think he can hang onto power and survive the crisis.  The US apparently doesn’t think so, as it has ordered non-essential personnel out of the country.

Michael Rubin at American Enterprise Institute:

Where does this leave the United States? Mubarak’s departure will be the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end. As difficult as President Obama may have found crisis management during the last several days, the trickiest part is still to come. Rather than simply observe the crisis, the White House now will have to avoid tripping mines laid by the Brotherhood as it works to undercut Brotherhood attempts to consolidate control.

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Beware The Zombie Curmudgeon Who Talks Of Tits

Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post:

Alan Simpson believes that Social Security is “like a milk cow with 310 million tits,” according to an email he sent to the executive director of National Older Women’s League Tuesday morning. Simpson co-chairs the deficit commission, which is considering various proposals to cut Social Security benefits.

Simpson’s email, which OWL chief Ashley Carson released publicly, (PDF) was sent in response to an April blog post Carson wrote for the Huffington Post. Carson criticized Simpson for repeatedly describing his Social Security opponents as “Pink Panthers,” arguing that the description had sexist connotations.

His email is peppered with exclamation points and condescension. At one point he urged Carson to read a certain graph, “which I hope you are able to discern if you are any good at reading graphs.”

Simpson concludes by implying that leading a major organization dedicated to the interests of middle-aged and elderly women is not “honest work.”

“If you have some better suggestions about how to stabilize Social Security instead of just babbling into the vapors, let me know,” he writes. “And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ’em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!”

It’s unclear from Simpson’s email if he means Social Security is the milk cow or if he’s referring to America in general. A Simpson assistant responded to a HuffPost email saying that Simpson was traveling and unable to comment immediately. OWL is now circulating a petition calling on the former Republican Senator from Wyoming to resign.

Chris Good at The Atlantic:

Here’s the resignation call from Eric Kingston, co-director of Social Security Works:
“Alan Simpson’s comments are offensive and sexist and clearly demonstrate that he is unfit to continue to lead the President’s Fiscal Commission. His comments not only show his true view of women and older Americans but also his disdain for the very program he claims he is trying to protect – Social Security. Social Security Works is demanding that he resign immediately. If he will not, the President must fire him. Alan Simpson has no business deciding the fate of hundreds of millions of Americans’ retirement future.  He should have no power over Social Security, which provides vital economic support to millions of children and people with disabilities, as well as seniors and  their families.”

Andrew Biggs at The American Enterprise Institute:

It’s perhaps a sign of the times that you can’t make an analogy—albeit an analogy I can’t say I completely understand—without being called sexist. Eric Kingson of the left-leaning Social Security Works promptly obliged, coupled with a call to resign.

Personally I think Simpson’s comment was virulently anti-cow—everyone knows that cows have only four tits. Or teats. Whatever. That said, the guy’s from Wyoming so my guess is a cow that got only a little harsh language thinks it got off easy.

Finally, I think that fights like this are—get ready!—an udder waste of time. Simpson is silly to provide an opening like this; where’s the staff when you need them? And Kingson is immature to follow up with feigned outrage. If these folks truly get upset about a slightly strange cow analogy then they’re worse off than I thought.

But that’s where things stand today.

Paul Krugman:

I always thought that the deficit commission was a bad idea; it has only looked worse over time, as the buzz is that Democrats are caving in to Republicans, leaning ever further toward an all-cuts, no taxes solution, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

I’ve also had my eye on Alan Simpson, the supposedly grown-up Republican co-chair, who has been talking nonsense about Social Security from the get-go.

At this point, though, Obama is on the spot: he has to fire Simpson, or turn the whole thing into a combination of farce and tragedy — the farce being the nature of the co-chair, the tragedy being that Democrats are so afraid of Republicans that nothing, absolutely nothing, will get them sanctioned.

When you have a commission dedicated to the common good, and the co-chair dismisses Social Security as a “milk cow with 310 million tits,” you either have to get rid of him or admit that you’re completely, um, cowed by the right wing, that IOKIYAR rules completely.

And no, an apology won’t suffice. Simpson was completely in character here; it was perfectly consistent with everything else he’s said, and with his previous behavior. He has to go.

Dean Baker at Hufffington Post:

I was also a recipient of one of Simpson’s tirades. As was the case with the note he sent to Carson, Simpson attached a presentation prepared for the commission by Social Security’s chief actuary. Simpson implied that this presentation had some especially eye-opening information that would lead Carson and myself to give up our wrong-headed views on Social Security.

While I opened the presentation with great expectations, I quickly discovered there was nothing in the presentation that would not already be known to anyone familiar with the annual Social Security trustees’ report. The presentation showed a program that is currently in solid financial shape, but somewhere in the next three decades will face a shortfall due to an upward redistribution of wage income, increasing life expectancy, and slow growth in the size of the workforce. The projected shortfall is not larger than what the program has faced at prior points in its history, most notably in 1982 when the Greenspan Commission was established to restore the program’s solvency.

It was disturbing to see that Simpson seemed surprised by what should have been old hat to anyone familiar with the policy debate on Social Security. After all, he had been a leading participant in these debates in his years in the Senate.

Simpson’s public remarks also seem to show very little knowledge of the financial situation of the elderly or near elderly. He has repeatedly made references to retirees driving up to their gated communities in their Lexuses. While this description may apply to Simpson’s friends, it applies to very few other retirees, the vast majority of whom rely on Social Security for the bulk of their income. Cutting the benefits of the small group of genuinely affluent elderly would make almost no difference in the finances of the program.

Furthermore, the baby-boom generation that is nearing retirement has seen most of its savings destroyed by the collapse of the housing bubble that both wiped out their housing equity and took a big chunk of the limited money they were able to put aside in their 401(k)s. Simpson shows no understanding of this fact as he prepares to cut benefits for near retirees.

He also doesn’t seem to have a clue as to the type of work that most older people are doing. While it is possible for senators to continue in their jobs late in life, nearly half of older workers have jobs that are either physically demanding or require they work in difficult conditions. Simpson seems totally clueless on this point when he considers proposals to raise the retirement age.

ECHIDNE of the snakes:

I find the e-mail insulting, rude, contemptuous and clearly one written by an anti-feminist. The whole tone of it is one of belittling the recipient whose work is not regarded as honest and whose ability to read graphs is doubted. Is that sexist enough for you?

The comment itself, about that wonder cow with 310 million tits, doesn’t sound sexist to me unless something I don’t get is hidden in the actual numbers? Is it the term “tits” that people view as sexist? I spend too much time in the bottom waters of the Internet to interpret tits that way. Men have them, too, and sometimes even moobs.

Jackie Calmes at NYT:

Alan K. Simpson, the Republican co-chairman of President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission, removed his “size 15 feet” from his mouth to apologize to a critic on Wednesday for a stinging letter in which he compared Social Security to “a milk cow with 310 million tits.”

The apology came as some liberal groups and members of Congress who oppose any changes to Social Security benefits called on Mr. Obama to fire Mr. Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming long known for his irreverent and often biting remarks.

But at the White House, Jennifer Psaki, the deputy communications director, said, “Alan Simpson has apologized and while we regret and do not condone his comments, we accept his apology and he will continue to serve.”

[…]

Mr. Simpson apologized in a letter to Ms. Carson, adding: “Over the last 40 years, I have had my size 15 feet in my mouth a time or two. To quote my old friend and colleague, Senator Lloyd Bentsen, when I make a mistake, ‘It’s a doozy!’ ’’

EARLIER: Beware The Zombie Curmudgeon Who Talks Of Lesser People

UPDATE: Bill Scher and Nicole Kurokawa at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Glenn Greenwald

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Filed under Entitlements, Political Figures

Some Television Coverage Of Their Own?

Eddie North-Hager at the University of Southern California:

Even the ESPN Ticker gives women short shrift – 96.4 percent of the information scrolling along the bottom of the screen was dedicated to men’s sports.

The finding is part of a 20-year study of sports coverage released by USC sociologist Mike Messner and Purdue University sociologist Cheryl Cooky. Though it was not surprising to discover that men’s sports gets more coverage, it was eye-opening when researchers found that women’s sports accounted for less than 2 percent of network news and ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“There’s a message that sports is still for, by and about men,” Messner said. “When will the news catch up?”

Just as surprising is that as more women than ever participate in all levels of sports, coverage of their gender is drastically declining. In 2004, network affiliates dedicated 6.3 percent to women’s sports. Last year it dropped to 1.6 percent.

“News programs are supposed to be a window to the world and there is a journalistic responsibility to reflect that,” said Messner, an expert in the sociology of sports.

In 1971, 294,000 high school girls played interscholastic sports. Today 3.1 million play, much closer to the 4.4 million boys who play high school sports.

Yet network affiliates ran 60 stories on NCAA men’s basketball in March 2009. There were no stories about women.

It’s not that ample coverage of men’s sports leaves no time for women. The researchers found that newscasts routinely air light sports features, such as a story about a hamburger with 5,000 calories and 300 grams of fat sold at a minor league baseball park in Michigan.

The discrepancy is important, Messner said, as it reinforces the stereotype that sports proves men are superior to women, that the women’s product isn’t the same quality or would not have the same mass appeal. Messner points out those arguments have been used before, such as when African Americans weren’t considered good enough to compete in Major League Baseball.

Fred Bowen at The Washington Post:

So if you love women’s sports, what can you do? First, support women’s teams and go to the games. Ask your parents and friends to go to the games. Get tickets for the Washington Mystics or the Freedom soccer team. And don’t forget all the wonderful local women’s college teams.

Second, watch women’s sports on television whenever you can. Women’s teams need all the fans they can get. Television news shows and newspapers are businesses that cover the most popular sports. In Washington, TV stations, radio shows and even KidsPost talk about the Redskins because so many people watch the games and are interested in the team.

Finally, don’t give up. Recently, I read the book “When the Game Was Ours,” about basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Author Jackie MacMullan mentions that Game 6 of the 1980 NBA championship between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers was not on live TV. It was on tape delay late at night.

Thirty years ago, even the men’s NBA was not a big-time sport. It took years for the NBA to become so popular. Maybe with a little help, the same can happen with women’s sports.

Christina Hoff Summers at The American Enterprise Institute:

But the heavy focus of news and highlights shows on men’s sports is not only fathomable but obvious—that is where the fans are. And that is where advertisers expect to find customers for “male” products such as beer, razors, and cars. Men’s professional sports are a fascination (obsession is more like it) to many millions of men, because they offer extreme competition, performance, and heroics. Women’s professional sports, however skilled and admirable, cannot compare in Promethean drama.

Even women prefer watching male teams. Few women follow the sports pages and ESPN, but many enjoy attending live games—featuring male athletes. According to Sports Business Daily, 31 percent of the NFL’s “avid fans” are women.

Nyad and the USC study authors demand that television cover women’s sports “fairly and equitably,” but the study never once mentions the word “attendance.” Shouldn’t fan interest in the games drive the media stories? Economist Mark Perry, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, looked at the numbers. For the 2009 season, the NBA got 92.3 percent of the total attendance for pro basketball (NBA plus WNBA), while the WNBA got only 7.7 percent of the total attendance (see chart below). But according to the USC study, the WNBA received 22.2 percent of the coverage. Perry’s conclusion: “So women’s pro basketball got a hugely disproportionate share of media coverage. Total attendance at NBA games was 12 times greater than attendance at the WNBA games, but media coverage was only 3.5 times greater for men than for women.”

Rod Dreher:

I’m not a sports fan, but it seems pretty clear to me that almost nobody wants to watch professional women’s sports. The question is why. I suppose the feminists would say that the market actually is there, if only the people who run TV sports would notice. Really? You think that people who really only want to make money, and don’t care how they do it, are turning their nose up at an opportunity to exploit an untapped market? Highly doubtful. The more interesting question is why, in a sports-crazy nation, people — even many women — only really care about male sports.

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

Sports journalism has changed a lot since 1989, and contrary to what the USC study implies, anyone who wants to follow women’s sports is actually a lot better off now due to niche media that both offers coverage of practically any team one would want to follow, and helps explain why mass market programs like Sports Center and network news sports shows cover teams or athletes with niche audiences less — if you’re interested in the WNBA, you can buy a package through your cable company to get all the games, follow the season on ESPN.com, join a fantasy league, etc.

As a high school athlete, and a recreational athlete still, I’m totally behind the move to give girls an equal opportunity to benefit from college athletics, and if I have daughters one day, I’ll encourage them to play sports by installing a basketball hoop on the driveway and buying them surfboards. Upon going to college, I’ll want them to have an equal opportunity at getting an athletic scholarship. But there isn’t any reason why network news and ESPN should give equal time, or anything approaching it, to women’s sports — they should follow market demand (and when they depart from it, they should televise less golf, a sport with a tiny audience of very rich consumers).

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Culture Wars Episode IV: A New Chapter

Arthur Brooks has a book out, The Battle. Website here

Arthur Brooks at WSJ:

There is a major cultural schism developing in America. But it’s not over abortion, same-sex marriage or home schooling, as important as these issues are. The new divide centers on free enterprise — the principle at the core of American culture.

Despite President Barack Obama’s early personal popularity, we can see the beginnings of this schism in the “tea parties” that have sprung up around the country. In these grass-roots protests, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans have joined together to make public their opposition to government deficits, unaccountable bureaucratic power, and a sense that the government is too willing to prop up those who engaged in corporate malfeasance and mortgage fraud.

The data support the protesters’ concerns. In a publication with the ironic title, “A New Era of Responsibility,” the president’s budget office reveals average deficits of 4.7% in the five years after this recession is over. The Congressional Budget Office predicts $9.3 trillion in new debt over the coming decade.

And what investments justify our leaving this gargantuan bill for our children and grandchildren to pay? Absurdities, in the view of many — from bailing out General Motors and the United Auto Workers to building an environmentally friendly Frisbee golf course in Austin, Texas. On behalf of corporate welfare, political largess and powerful special interests, government spending will grow continuously in the coming years as a percentage of the economy — as will tax collections.

Still, the tea parties are not based on the cold wonkery of budget data. They are based on an “ethical populism.” The protesters are homeowners who didn’t walk away from their mortgages, small business owners who don’t want corporate welfare and bankers who kept their heads during the frenzy and don’t need bailouts. They were the people who were doing the important things right — and who are now watching elected politicians reward those who did the important things wrong.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss this ethical populism as a fringe movement — maybe even dangerous extremism. In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste. In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off “in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time.” Fully 70% agreed, versus 20% who disagreed.

Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Brooks at The American Enterprise Institute:

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Culture war? Didn’t we evolve beyond such talk somewhere around a Pat Buchanan speech at a Republican convention?

ARTHUR C. BROOKS: For many, that 1992 convention speech defined the term “culture war.” But what I’m talking about is a new culture struggle–one fought not over guns, gays, and abortion but over the core characteristic of America: free enterprise. In my book I don’t just demonstrate that free enterprise is the most efficient way of organizing an economy (which it is). I also show that it’s an expression of American values, and, thus, that a fight for free enterprise is very much a fight for our culture.

LOPEZ: Has President Obama made Americans less happy? Is it even fair or reasonable or constructive to ask such a question?

BROOKS: Happiness is important to discuss. The opponents of free enterprise always claim they will make America a happier nation, and we always lamely respond with arguments about economic efficiency. Yet in truth, the better prescription for happiness is on our side, not theirs.

Nonpartisan social-survey data clearly show that the big driver of happiness is earned success: a person’s belief that he has created value in his life or the life of others.

Redistributionists always make the argument that relative income is a huge driver of unhappiness–that poorer people are unhappier than richer people simply because they have less money through no fault of their own–and thus we can get a happier, fairer society by equalizing incomes. This is based on a colossal misreading of data and a whole lot of ideology. The truth is that relative income is not directly related to happiness. Nonpartisan social-survey data clearly show that the big driver of happiness is earned success: a person’s belief that he has created value in his life or the life of others. Of course, in a capitalist system, earned success is often rewarded financially, so people who have earned a lot of success tend to have more money than others. But it’s the success, not the money, that does the trick. (We show this by comparing the happiness of people who have the same level of income but have different perceived success levels.)

The system that enables the most people to earn the most success is free enterprise, by matching up people’s skills, interests, and abilities. In contrast, redistribution simply spreads money around. Even worse, it attenuates the ability to earn success by perverting economic incentives. Free enterprise is essentially a formula not just for wealth creation, but for life satisfaction.

LOPEZ: Are free enterprise and big government natural enemies?

BROOKS: There are some things that government does well. When the U.S. government was fighting Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, it was the champion of freedom in the world. It took a big government to win World War II. But it takes a smart one to realize it is only the entrepreneurialism of individuals that can deliver thriving economies and human flourishing. Government has a role, of course, such as enforcing the rule of law. But when it takes resources out of the hands of innovators and risk-takers, when it regulates small businesses out of existence, when it favors crony corporations instead of entrepreneurs, when it taxes corporations so much they move abroad–then, yes, big government becomes the enemy of free enterprise.

LOPEZ: We’re always told that free enterprise is merciless. Isn’t it the source of misery for everyone but the guys at the very top? (And of course they are guys, because everyone knows women are oppressed in the American economy.)

BROOKS: Absolutely not. The data show that a poor man who earns his success and believes he has a chance to get ahead through his own efforts–that man is happier than a “guy at the very top” who does not feel he has earned his success (or that anyone really can). And it’s as true for women as it is for men. Free enterprise does not bow to gender, class, race, or ethnicity. It rewards hard work, dedication, initiative, talent, and street smarts. It’s truly a force for liberation, not oppression.

Bryan Caplan:

The values that Brooks expresses in The Battle are eerily similar to my own.  I really wish this book were right from cover to cover.  But I’m afraid that Brooks’ analysis of public opinion is deeply mistaken.  While the median American is almost certainly more pro-market than the median European, he’s still a social democrat.  And while recent policies are probably a little more statist than the median American prefers, the statist quo is very popular.

Brooks’ whole book revolves around his 70/30 claim: 70% of Americans are pro-market, and just 30% are anti-market.  His data work seems OK as far as it goes, but he ignores three key problems.

First, Americans only seem staunchly pro-market at the most abstract and symbolic level.  On most specific policy issues, the pattern reverses.  Americans favor as much or more government spending on almost everything.  Only 41% of Americans are against or strongly against “control of prices by legislation.”  (GSS variable identifier SETPRICE)   Only  21.3% are against or strongly against “supporting declining industries to protect jobs.”  (GSS variable identifier SAVEJOBS)  Just 15.7% disagree or strongly disagree with the view that “America should limit the import of foreign products in order to protect its national economy.” (GSS variable identifier IMPORTS)  All things considered, the best you can say about the American public is that it pays lip service to free enterprise.

Second, even lip service to free enterprise is partly an illusion created by binary response options.  If Americans have to choose between free markets or socialism, 70% or so prefer free markets.  But if you offer them intermediate choices, the picture changes.  Brooks mentions that Americans are most supportive of capitalism when you call it “free enterprise”; I’d guess that “private enterprise” is an equally lovable label.   But when the GSS presents the statement, “Private enterprise is the best way to solve America’s economic problems,” the breakdown is 16.3% strongly agree, 37.1% agree, 32.4% neither agree nor disagree, 12.5% disagree, and 1.8% strongly disagree.  (GSS variable identifier PRIVENT)   For a less favorable label like “capitalism” or “free markets,” the median American would almost certainly be neutral.  On a balanced question, I’d guess a lip service breakdown more like 35% pro-market, 40% neutral, and 25% anti-market.

Third, even self-styled pro-market Americans are normally only relatively pro-market.  What fraction of “pro-market” Americans want to substantially cut – much less abolish –  Social Security and Medicare?  They’re the nation’s largest social programs, their moral and market failure rationales are flimsy at best, but almost everyone loves them.

Once you take a more realistic view of American public opinion, there’s not much of a split between the policies voters want and the policies voters get.  Even the 2008 bailout looks fairly popular if you include an intermediate response option.  I wish it weren’t so, but if the American public wanted free-market policies, they’d have them.  The point of free-market philosophy is not to defend public opinion, but to change it.

Clive Crook:

On the essential virtues of limited government, reliance on entrepreneurship, and rewards determined by market forces, I am with him. These are vital principles, too much neglected. But his framing of the broader issue is excessively Manichean. Those competing visions of private enterprise and statism are not irreconcilable, as Brooks insists. They have in fact been reconciled. The result is the mixed economy, which is what we all have. It is not a question of preferring one pure model or the other, but of choosing a point on a continuous scale. To put it another way, the US is not nearly as exceptional as Brooks says.

His account of what is at stake reminded me that I rebuked George Will a little while ago for saying Obama was putting the Founders’ vision of limited government at risk. Please. The constitution survives as a legal text, which is a kind of miracle, I grant you, and a tribute to its amazing flexibility. But its flexibility is the point. The Founders’ intent, so far as the limits of federal power are concerned, has been wholly subverted: it had to be, because the political consensus that supports the constitution has changed out of recognition too.

Progressives and conservatives alike call the United States a “free-market economy”: both sides have an interest in perpetuating this delusion. The idea is ridiculous – as ridiculous as calling Europe’s economies “socialist”. True, the blend of government and private enterprise is a bit different between the US and the European average, but the models (insofar as it makes sense to talk of a European model) are neighbors not polar opposites.

All this was true, obviously, long before 2009. Obama, I agree, does want to narrow the gap a bit more – but it just was not that wide to begin with. Public spending is lower in the US, but not vastly lower once you remember to add state and local spending to federal outlays; the US healthcare anomaly accounts for a lot of the remaining difference.

In most respects (labor protections are the main exception) the US regulatory state is at least as comprehensive and intrusive as those in Europe. As for the constant tyranny of petty bureaucracy, let me say as somebody who has lived in Britain and now in the US that it seems even worse here. One’s interaction with officials of one sort or another is endless. Admittedly, I am an immigrant living in DC, which demands additional oversight. Who knows what I might get up to? Still, these days, I wince every time I hear, “It’s a free country.” No, it isn’t.

Brink Lindsey at The American Prospect:

Brooks’ narrative works somewhat better with respect to conflicts over the size of government. Here, at least, there is a clear distinction between the United States and Europe. Levels of social welfare spending in Europe are generally much higher than they are in the U.S..

Does America’s smaller welfare state reflect important cultural differences between us and folks on the other side of the Atlantic? Yes, probably, but the main one is hardly worthy of defending. A 2001paper, “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?” by economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, provides powerful evidence that race is at the center of the story. There’s a strong negative relationship between a country’s racial heterogeneity and its levels of social spending, and within the U.S., states with larger black populations spend less on welfare programs. “Americans think of the poor as members of some different group than themselves, while Europeans think of the poor as members of their group,” the paper concludes.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no fan of the European welfare state. There are sound economic reasons for rejecting it as a model. Most decisively, the aging of the population and the continued development of promising but expensive medical treatments are rendering it unaffordable, and fiscal constraints will sooner or later lead to significant restructuring here as well.

But Brooks doesn’t want to use economic arguments. He counsels against “getting stuck in the old arguments over money.” Instead, he wants to defend America’s track record of more modest social spending on cultural grounds. And that is a really bad idea. Our tragic history of race relations may have inhibited spending, but we should be ashamed of that cultural heritage. We certainly shouldn’t embrace it and brag about it. Brooks apparently doesn’t realize what he’s doing; he thinks he’s touting good old Yankee self-reliance. But his argument is offensive even if he’s oblivious to how offensive he’s being.

In any event, it’s not anti-poverty programs that are threatening to send the U.S. budget spiraling out of control. Rather, it’s the middle-class entitlements, Social Security, and especially Medicare. And you can’t blame those programs on the machinations of the dastardly “30 percent coalition,” because they are overwhelmingly popular across the electorate. According to an April New York Times poll, 76 percent of Americans think “the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs of those programs.” And amazingly, the percent only drops to 62 when the sample is restricted to the 18 percent of people who say they support the Tea Party movement!

Here again, Brooks’ effort to turn economic policy problems into “us versus them” cultural conflicts collapses in failure. On the vexing question of how to defuse the entitlements fiscal time bomb, there is no “us” and “them.” The politics of us versus them is almost always ugly and illiberal. And on the policy questions that Brooks is concerned with, there’s no need for such deliberate divisiveness. Yes, there are strong disagreements about market regulation and the proper size and scope of social spending, but these disagreements are not based on some irreconcilable differences in values. Vigorous support for continued economic growth is nearly universal across the political spectrum. How else will we put jobless Americans back to work, and how else will we pay for the activities of government, without a strong, dynamic private sector? A similarly broad consensus exists for the following two propositions: On the one hand, a government safety net is needed to protect Americans from various hazards of life; on the other hand, that safety net shouldn’t bankrupt us.

Figuring out how to restore growth and how to construct an effective but affordable safety net, are questions for debate, analysis, and democratic decision-making. My answers to those questions may differ from yours, but dividing up into warring tribes and demonizing each other aren’t the ways to figure out who’s right.

E.D. Kain:

Lindsey’s critique is well worth the read. It’s always messy business to so inelegantly mix economics and culture, and I’m never fond of new wars however abstract they may be. As a devout culture-war pacifist, I don’t want economics turned into the next abortion debate. I’m perfectly fine with it remaining an economics debate. That’s an important debate with no sign of subsiding anytime soon.

Turning a debate over economics into a cultural question only serves to obfuscate. As Lindsey notes, we’re sure to blur “issues of regulation and redistribution” in ways that make the topic almost useless and indecipherable. That’s fine for the purposes of populism, but for the purposes of governance and creating sustainable positive attitudes toward markets, it’s trouble brewing.

Countries with very lavish redistributive welfare programs, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, also embrace extraordinarily free markets with very little government intervention or regulation. Free trade in these nations is widely accepted, but so are high taxes and cradle-to-grave social welfare programs.

If you take a look at the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, you’ll notice that a number of countries with much more redistributive economies nonetheless make the list and seven rank above the United States, including Ireland, Switzerland and Canada. This despite social-democratic programs such as universal health care! Whether the social programs in these countries are sustainable is another question altogether, but they in no way reflect attitudes toward markets or free trade.

Rather than creating a new culture war – between the ones we have already, the drug war, and the very real wars burning overseas, do we really have time to start another? – we should be focusing on creating a more sustainable fiscal future by reforming middle class entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

UPDATE: James Poulos at Ricochet

Kain responds at The League

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BeFri 4 Never?

Hilary Stout at NYT:

Most children naturally seek close friends. In a survey of nearly 3,000 Americans ages 8 to 24 conducted last year by Harris Interactive, 94 percent said they had at least one close friend. But the classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.

“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

“Parents sometimes say Johnny needs that one special friend,” she continued. “We say he doesn’t need a best friend.”

That attitude is a blunt manifestation of a mind-set that has led adults to become ever more involved in children’s social lives in recent years. The days when children roamed the neighborhood and played with whomever they wanted to until the streetlights came on disappeared long ago, replaced by the scheduled play date. While in the past a social slight in backyard games rarely came to teachers’ attention the next day, today an upsetting text message from one middle school student to another is often forwarded to school administrators, who frequently feel compelled to intervene in the relationship. (Ms. Laycob was speaking in an interview after spending much of the previous day dealing with a “really awful” text message one girl had sent another.) Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

Elizabeth Scalia at The Anchoress:

Unreal. Read the article. The schools and “experts” are intrusive and unnatural. And sad.

This isn’t about what’s good for the children; it is about being better able to control adults by stripping from them any training in intimacy and interpersonal trust. Don’t let two people get together and separate themselves from the pack, or they might do something subversive, like…think differently.

This move against “best friends” is ultimately about preventing individuals from nurturing and expanding their individuality. It is about training our future adults to be unable to exist outside of the pack, the collective. The schools want you to think this is about potential bullying and the sadness of some children feeling “excluded.” But that is not what this is about.

As a kid I was the target of “the pack;” I know more than I care to about schoolyard bullies, and I can tell you that the best antidote to them was having a good friend. One good friend who shares your interests and ideas and sense of humor can erase the negative effects of the conform-or-die “pack” with which one cannot identify, “the pack” that cannot comprehend why one would not wish to join them and will not tolerate resistance.

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute:

The absurdity of this approach is beyond measure. For one thing, it is completely at odds with real life. When kids grow up, they’re not going to be “friends with everyone.” In the real world there are people who will like you, and people who will dislike you; people who are kind, and people who are cruel; people you can trust, and people you can’t trust; people who will be there for you in good times and bad, and people who will abandon you when the going gets tough.

Childhood is when kids learn to recognize those different types of people, experience joys and disappointments of different kinds of friendships, and learn the social skills they will need to develop mature relationships later in life. As one psychologist quoted in the article puts it, “No one can teach you what a great friend is, what a fair-weather friend is, what a treacherous and betraying friend is except to have a great friend, a fair-weather friend or a treacherous and betraying friend.”

Denying kids the opportunity to have such experiences stunts their development. It also teaches kids to develop superficial relationships with lots of people, without learning how to develop deep bonds of meaning and consequence with anyone. Think about it: Who among us would tell their deepest, darkest secrets to “everyone”? Denying kids a “best friend” makes it harder to get through childhood—and makes it harder to be a successful adult one day as well.

Obviously, schools want to discourage cliques, ensure that no children are ostracized or bullied, and help those along who have trouble bonding with their peers. But the solution to such problems is not to discourage kids who do bond with their peers from doing so—or consciously separate them when they do.

This is but the latest misguided effort to protect children from the realities of life that only harms them in the long run. First came the trend to stop keeping score in childhood sports and give everyone a “participation trophy”—discouraging excellence and achievement, and shielding kids from the reality of winning and losing. Now comes a new fad of separating best friends—denying kids the magic of those first special friendships.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:

The stories are so familiar it makes no need to go into specifics. The experts of the helping professions want to tell you what to eat, what to drink, how to drive, how to talk, how to think. Sometimes they have a point, and as the father of a young child, I’m perfectly willing to concede that cliques and whatnot can be unhealthy or mean. But this really goes to 11.

Lisa Solod Warren at Huffington Post:

I was bulled in middle school and I have written a seminal article on school bullying for Brain, Child magazine a few years ago (well before the topic became so hot) and I say: Balderdash. Bullying is a problem; it can even be a tragedy. But the fact that a couple of kids bond as best friends is not the cause of bullying: stopping best friendships is not going to be the “cure.”

I have always counted myself fortunate to have a best friend as well as a couple of other women in my life with whom I am extremely close. I met my oldest best friend, Patti, when I was eight years old. Now, 46 years later, separated by hundreds of miles, we can still pick up the phone and start a conversation right in the middle. She knows my past and I know hers: all the dirty bits, the secrets, the moments we might not want to remember. She came to my father’s funeral a few months ago and I know that whatever I asked, whenever I asked it, she would be there. She knows the same of me.

She’s been there for me through a whole host of life changes. And those life changes began soon after we met in third grade. Had anyone discouraged me from clinging to her, or her to me, there would indeed have been hell to pay. And to what end? Is there any kind of scientific evidence that proves that being friends with an entire group of people without having one special person on whom one can absolutely rely is preferable? I wonder, actually, why on earth anyone would study this sort of thing in the first place. Bullying is about power. Power and insecurity. It’s something I found is often “taught” or handed down from generation to generation. Stopping kids from having one great friend whom they can trust to have their back is not going to prevent bullying. If anything, when a child doesn’t have someone he or she can trust -someone outside the family–bullying can seem even more onerous and scary than it already is. I never told my parents I was bullied. But Patti knew. And she defended me.

Razib Khan at Secular Right:

The article is in The New York Times. It’s a paper which usually tries really hard to pretend toward objective distance, but I get the sense that even the author of the piece was a bit confused by the weirdness which had infected the educational establishment.

Rod Dreher:

What crackpots. The idea that the way to decrease bullying is to deny children the opportunity to make a special friend or friends is cruel and crazy. It’s like saying that the way to stop school gun violence is to prevent anything that even looks like a gun from being brought to school — like, say, little toy soldiers pinned to a hat. No teacher or school would object to that. Oh, wait…

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