01 Oct 2016

Sarandon Is a True Progressive

Politics 7 Comments

I can respect Susan Sarandon, even though (of course) I disagree with a lot of her policy views. But I think this is incredibly brave of her. So I respect her the same way I respect Glenn Greenwald, who was totally anti-Bush because of the war and civil liberties, and then was consistent when Obama continued the same horrible policies.

I also love her lines near the end, where she says (paraphrasing) that “if you think it’s smart to shore up the status quo, then you don’t understand the status quo.”

This is why I so profoundly disagree with people like Steve Landsburg, Scott Sumner, and Scott Alexander. They all think (to varying degrees) that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be nearly as risky as Trump, because hey at least it will be basically another term of Obama.

Uh, right. That’s why I actually think Trump might be better, though I can totally see why Trump is scaring the #$()#$ out of these guys.

It’s funny, people warn that “Trump is Hitler” a lot. But right now, if you want to talk like this, then the people “trying to take over the world” aren’t supporting Donald Trump. No, they are actively opposing him.

01 Oct 2016

Johnson Supporters Inventing Their Own Reality

Politics 8 Comments

I did some soul-searching recently asking myself, “Is it true what they say? Do I just go out of my way to tear down the best chance for liberty in this election cycle?”

And no, that’s not what I’m doing. In my professional outlets, I don’t engage in libertarian catfighting. I have a podcast (co-hosted of course) devoted to taking down Paul Krugman. I write books hoisting up Mises.

But, on social media and my personal blog, yes I am going to point out when I think people on “my team” are engaging in the same qualitative (not quantitative) behavior that they recognize as ridiculous when it’s a Hillary or Trump supporter doing it.

Case in point: I have seen lots of Gary Johnson fans respond to his latest flub with the following excuses (listed after the video):

(1) “The mainstream media is lying, as usual. It wasn’t a “brain fart,” give me a break.”

(2) “It wasn’t an Aleppo moment, lying mainstream media. With Aleppo, Johnson was admittedly off, but this was a case of a gotcha question that no libertarian should answer.”

(3) “Johnson did the principled libertarian thing. *I* don’t respect any foreign leaders, do you Murphy?!!”

OK, the only problem with the defenses above, are that Johnson himself:

(1*) Was in the process of saying he was having a brain fart (see :30 – :40 in the video).
(2*) Explicitly said he was having an Aleppo moment (25 seconds in the video).
(3*) Tried to name a foreign leader he respected (former president of Mexico), but blanked out on the name. Then said “FOX!” when his running mate rescued him.

But other than that, yes, it was a mainstream lie.

P.S. Johnson himself, afterwards, perpetuated this false narrative–sort of like George Costanza and the Jerk Store. So the one thing he had going for him–that he was a straight shooter who admitted when he screwed up–is now gone too.

P.P.S. For those of you mad at me for not jumping on the Johnson-Weld bandwagon, be honest with yourself: Did you ever think it was remotely possible that you would have to explain your guy saying this?

P.P.P.S. Of COURSE if I had to pick between President Johnson and President Trump, I’d prefer Johnson. But I don’t have that power, go figure. What I can and will do is point out when Libertarians are doing the same type of thing that they so easily recognize and ridicule in Trump supporters. (“Ha ha, look at them squirm and try to explain away the latest ridiculous thing he said!”)

30 Sep 2016

Contra Krugman: We Take on Hillary’s Promises About Family Leave and Mental Health

Contra Krugman No Comments

BTW, I am now going to call her “Hillary” because her own campaign site does it. (I explain in the episode.)

Here’s the link. If you don’t listen to these religiously, let me plug this as a particularly good one. Jokes, economics, Krugman Kontradictions… what more do you want? By the end of the episode Tom is in awe of my quick wit.

30 Sep 2016

Developing Story: Leading Market Monetarist Rebukes Christian

Austerity, Market Monetarism, Shameless Self-Promotion 9 Comments

Recently Scott Sumner focused his attention on 1946 (here and here), which (he claimed) was quite embarrassing for Keynesians. This is the opening of his second post, which gives a flavor of his analysis:

Over at Econlog I did a post discussing the austerity of 1946. The Federal deficit swung from over 20% of GDP during fiscal 1945 (mid-1944 to mid-1945) to an outright surplus in fiscal 1947. Policy doesn’t get much more austere than that! Even worse, the austerity was a reduction in government output, which Keynesians view as the most potent part of the fiscal mix. I pointed out that employment did fine, with the unemployment rate fluctuating between 3% and 5% during 1946, 1947 and 1948, even as Keynesian economists had predicted a rise in unemployment to 25% or even 35%—i.e. worse than the low point of the Great Depression. That’s a pretty big miss in your forecast, and made me wonder about the validity of the model they used.

Everyone got that? Keynesians are big on fiscal policy being the key to avoiding recessions, and so it’s really awkward for them that there was so much fiscal tightness in 1946, with no plunge into Depression. Sumner thinks this is a pretty big smoking gun to tell us that Keynesian models are wrong. I agree with him.

But what’s interesting is that the end of World War II also coincided with extreme monetary tightening. I am old school and like the monetary base as a key indicator. Check it out:

Can’t get a much crisper “regime change” than that, right? From December 1941 – December 1945, the monetary base almost doubled, but starting in 1946 the base was basically flat for the next 5 years.

As far as short-term safe interest rates, they were steady throughout 1946 but then began rising sharply in mid-1947:

But as we all know, Market Monetarists are not fooled by the monetary base or interest rates. Instead they focus on NGDP growth as the ultimate criterion of whether monetary policy is tight or loose.

On this count, it’s not as clear cut as with the monetary base, but nonetheless (using annual data) you see the growth in NGDP collapsed to zero after the war:

And, Sumner himself reports that if you look at the beginning of 1945 through the beginning of 1946, NGDP actually drops 10%. (For context, using quarterly data, the biggest drop from the preceding period in NGDP during the 2008 financial crisis was -7.7%. So for an annual drop of 10% after World War II, that was way way worse of a monetary shock, if you’re a Market Monetarist.)

So, I think the above shows that there was, by all accounts, monetary tightening (or at least a failure to engage in “monetary offset”) following World War II. Since the standard Market Monetarist story is that massive fiscal contraction is indeed bad because it reduces Aggregate Demand, but can be offset with appropriate monetary loosening, it seems that this year 1946 poses a pretty big challenge to the Market Monetarist model as well as the Keynesian model.

Someone brought this up in the comments of Scott’s Money Illusion post. And yet, not only did Scott not provide a satisfactory explanation, he blew the guy off like it was a stupid question.

*whistles innocently*

P.S. It’s not just 1946. The Market Monetarists tried to say Canadian fiscal austerity only worked in the 1990s because of monetary offset, but there again I showed (here and here) that using all sorts of reasonable metrics, the Bank of Canada tightened right at the crucial moment.

29 Sep 2016

Happy Birthday Mises

Mises, Shameless Self-Promotion 2 Comments

My short tribute, focusing on the economics of war.

27 Sep 2016

The Coming Financial Storms

Lara-Murphy Show 9 Comments

Sorry for the technical problems last night; I realized I took down my post without telling you guys what happened. It’s a long story but we were all set way ahead of time, our tech guys were testing everything, it all worked perfectly and then, when we were about to “go live”…it just didn’t work. The video that the user would have seen was unacceptably choppy. Still trying to figure out what happened.

In any event, here’s the video presentation:

26 Sep 2016

My “Get in the Vote” Campaign

Voting 20 Comments

Scott Alexander linked to this very clever proposal by Scott Aaronson: In order to stop Trump, people in “safe” states coordinate with Johnson or Stein supporters in swing states. The people in safe states vote for the appropriate 3rd party candidate (so that nationally Johnson or Stein gets the same number of votes, which is what their supporters care about), while the J/S supporters in the swing states for Clinton, where it really matters in the main race.

Whether you detest Clinton more than Trump, it’s undeniably a clever idea. (Apparently it’s legal, too–“which is nice.”)

But as I said on Facebook: Now just up the ante: I propose that Clinton and Trump voters in the same state find each other, agree NOT to vote, and use that time instead to pick up litter.

25 Sep 2016

Should Christians Support the Death Penalty?

Religious 8 Comments

I was flipping through the radio and heard a broadcast from Vernon McGee on this–I think it was a live sermon, and is recorded here–and McGee, as is his wont, was very hardnosed about it. Indeed he went so far as to say that the death penalty was the underpinning of civilization (or something like that).

He made some decent points about incentives, saying that if the worst thing you can get is life in prison, then it gives a bank robber an incentive to shoot the witnesses, etc. That’s neat, but it applies to *any* capped punishment. E.g. suppose we say, “We will give you the chair, but we don’t torture criminals, because that would be sadistic.” Then someone could take McGee’s logic and show that this is crazy, because now someone with one homicide under his belt has an incentive to kill multiple people. We (allegedly) need to first torture people for one hour per murder victim, and *then* give them the chair, lest we set up faulty incentives…

(So if you see how his point could be ramped up indefinitely, notice that it could be ramped down. Indeed, the argument about incentives is what I’ve used–cribbing from a talk I saw Gary Wolfram give–against the “three strikes” rules. I.e. it was an argument for leniency, not an argument for mercilessness.)

And here we come to the crux of the problem. It is ironic for a born-again Christian to be upholding “law and order,” when the point is that Jesus rescued us from our fate before the Law.

Also, as Joseph Sobran put it (it’s October 21, 2010 in case this link is too generic): “In the end, the government murdered him. This fact ought to count for something in any discussion of temporal power. Maybe capital punishment is still justified, even if mistakes are made now and then and the Son of God is accidentally victimized. But I’d start with that accident.”

Now, what’s even more interesting is that in his sermon, McGee wraps up with the crucifixion. Yet the angle he takes is to condemn the Jewish mob for demanding the freedom of Barabbas, and likens that to today’s whiny liberals demanding that the coddled criminals be freed (rather than executed). That’s very clever, but I don’t think the true Christian lesson from that episode is, “Wow, what idiots, they didn’t nail Barabbas to a cross.” Rather, I think the lesson we’re supposed to draw is, “Wow, what idiots, they chose a murderer over the Son of God who had been healing and teaching them for 3 years.”

McGee is right that the penalty for sin is death. But that hardly means, “Therefore in a just society, murderers should be killed by the civil authorities.” After all, we are all sinners. Yes, a death was demanded, but Jesus already paid that debt on our behalf.

Obviously, Vernon McGee knows these truths–and he taught them more eloquently, and to thousands of people. But clearly the Old Testament verses on the wages of sin do not directly translate into what the civil authorities should do. Jesus explicitly taught mercy, even for an adulteress caught in the act.

(See here for some of my thoughts on Romans 13, which McGee had brought up earlier in his sermon.)

Last thing: I saw someone on Facebook (a strong Christian who is also hardcore libertarian in the Rothbardian tradition) just today mention that we shouldn’t conflate “the death penalty” with the State. And I’m fine with that, just as we shouldn’t conflate “education” with “government schools.” However, as a Christian I would not patronize private judges/defense agencies that sought to punish criminals with death.