Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Delightfully Morbid Statistics

Here's a chart that shows what dollar value various government agencies assign to a human life when doing their cost-benefit analyses. Via Yglesias.

Some commenters reacted negatively to the very idea of cost-benefit analysis and human life. I guess my reaction to that is: "Grow up." Yes, it seems heartless and cold-blooded to place a dollar value on human life. But any safety decision we make (requiring seat belts, helmet laws, disease prevention, etc.) implicitly places a dollar value on human life. Indeed, many government policy decisions (health care, war, whether it is more important to fight unemployment or inflation) make an implicit statement about the value of human life. I think making those implicit statements explicit can help us make more just decisions.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pros and Cons of smartphones

The Oatmeal. A sample:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sane conservatives on why we need to raise the debt ceiling

The main fault line in American politics these days is not between liberal and conservative. It's between conservative and bat-shit crazy.

Conservatives have been raising the debt ceiling for years. Now suddenly right-wingers want to take the world economy hostage by threatening not to raise it. This is crazy, and weakens America.

Thank you conservatives, for speaking out against this nonsense:
Sane conservative economists recognize that not raising the debt ceiling on August 2nd would be a disaster. Sane conservatives understand that the ratings agencies will lower our credit rating if we won’t raise the ceiling, and that we have almost $500 billion in maturing treasuries that we need to roll over in August alone which, as UBS argues, is a problem [...]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another Yglesias Quote

If members of Congress think like partisans who want to capture the White House, then the smart strategy for them is to refuse to do whatever it is the president wants. The content of the president’s desire is irrelevant. But the more ambitious his desire is, the more important it is to turn him down. After all, if the President wants a big bipartisan deal on the deficit, then a big bipartisan deal on the deficit is “a win for President Obama,” which means a loss for the anti-Obama side. When Obama didn’t want to embrace Bowles-Simpson, then failure to embrace Bowles-Simpson was a valid critique of him. But had Obama embraced Bowles-Simpson, then it would have been necessary for his opponents to reject it. That’s why now that Obama has a position well to the right of Bowles-Simpson, his opponents are still against Bowles-Simpson.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quote of the Day

[I]f you’re interested in labor and working conditions, you’ve got to be interested in full employment. Full employment gives workers meaningful leverage. Mass unemployment gives it all to the bosses. In strict dollars and cents terms, I think everyone is better off with prosperity than with sluggish growth. But in terms of power, mass unemployment is a boon to bosses.

-Matthew Yglesias

Amen. If the market value of a human being's labor is shitty, people will be treated like shit by their employers. If someone can say, "Take this job and shove it!", that's real power for the worker. If an employer can say, "I've got 30 people lined up ready to replace you.", that's real power for the employer. Everything else is fiddling at the margins. I'd take 4% unemployment and free agency over 10% unemployment and labor union backing me up any day of the week.

The Federal Reserve's job is to keep both unemployment and inflation low. Low unemployment benefits workers. Low inflation benefits banks and people who are holding a lot of cash. Guess which group the Federal Reserve seems to be serving better. This is one of the great moral travesties of our time.

(Yes, hyper inflation is bad for everybody. But 4% inflation might help get rid of some of our debt overhang at both the personal and national levels. Of course, as a mortgage holder, I'm not disinterested here: I'd love to have a %0-1% real rate on my home loan!)

Looks like Republicans are balking on holding the economy hostage

This is a good thing:
For sheer cynicism it’s hard to top McConnell’s latest bright idea, which is essentially to pass legislation that will give the Obama administration the power to raise the debt ceiling, subject to a 2/3rds over-ride by Congress. The practical effect would be to raise the debt ceiling while allowing Republicans to vote “against” doing so with impunity.
Yes, it's a cynical ploy to make Obama look like a bad guy for raising the debt ceiling (to pay for a budget that Congress passes, of course). But it's a total cave on all the policy concessions they were trying to extort from Democrats by holding the economy hostage and threatening to let the US go into default.

I'm glad to finally see some movement on this.