Saturday, September 22, 2012

Real Time With Bill Maher: Counterpoints and Retrospective (9/21/12)

Okay, so this episode really ground my gears, because it had everything that I hate: extremely talkative and overbearing left leaning talk show host (I'm reasonably confident Chris Mathews does 10 lines of coke before coming on the show), mealy mouthed and simpering left leaning journalist, and an inarticulate and unintelligent Republican.

But there are a few counterpoints to write, because it's important for people to get a sense of perspective that you can't get from watching the show live.

The Globalization Trope: Every time some pseudo-academic wants to sound intelligent and thoughtful when it comes to the decline of the middle class, they always talk about how globalization has disrupted and eliminated the traditional livelihoods of middle America. And as much as Democrats and their left leaning cohort love to accuse Republicans of pandering to ignorant fears of ordinary Americans on foreign people living in the country, they rely just as much on their ignorance when it comes to foreign people living out of the country.

I won't deny that globalization has disrupted many parts of the US economy. Economists have a term for this: creative destruction. Economic progress is always uneven and also contains hardships for certain areas of the economy. But the end result is a net plus which is why we call it progress.

Globalization's political problem is that the downsides are obvious and symbolically powerful. Images of shuttered factories and people losing their jobs is more moving than a t-shirt that's 50 cents cheaper than it would have been. Things like free trade have made goods a lot cheaper than they otherwise would have been, but it's hard for a consumer to spot a difference while the factory worker who lost their job definitely feels the difference.

Declining Real Incomes: Another talking point that Democrats (and, more recently under the Obama Administration, Republicans) love to trot out is the fact that, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real household income in the United States has essentially been stagnant since about 1970.

There are a few things wrong with that analysis. If you go purely by CPI and "real" wage growth over that time period, then it's correct. But the problem with defining "real" income growth is the gigantic leap in quality of the goods that people buy. The average car built today is an order of magnitude more safer, luxurious, and efficient than a car built in the 70s. Health care is of vastly higher quality today than it was 40 years ago. And we can buy things now that couldn't be had at any price back then. Like cell phones.

Gordon Gekko: Financier and all around baller

That phone is the Motorola DynaTAC, which was the bleeding edge gotta-have-it tech item of the 80s. It first came out in 1983, weighed 3 pounds, couldn't store phone numbers, and cost 4000 dollars to buy. In 1983. Something like the iPhone 5 or the Galaxy S3 was beyond the imagination of the most forward thinking technological visionary at that time.

People today live better, more prosperous lives than at any time in the past. Just because a gallon of gasoline was cheaper in "real" terms 40 years ago doesn't mean as much to the average American household as things like the widespread availability of smartphones, personal computers, computerized tomography, satellite navigation, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and boner pills.

It Could Have Been Worse™: One thing that constantly annoys me about the Democratic defense of President Obama is the counterfactual "it could have been worse" argument. Yes, things were bad. Yes, things are now much better. But credit primarily goes to Fed Chief Bernanke and then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for stabilizing the financial sector and restoring confidence in the markets, publicly assuring us that the world was not, in fact, going to end.

The absolute bottom of the recession was in mid March, less than 2 months after Obama was inaugurated. And less than 1 month after ARRA (the stimulus program) was signed into law, the bulk of which would be spent in late 2009 and early 2010. The measures taken in the waning hours of the Bush Administration prevented collapse. The stimulus gave us a lackluster recovery (which has since petered out, resulting in 2 additional rounds of large scale quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve), nothing more.

And that doesn't even begin to take in account the colossal mismanagement of expectations by the Obama Administration, who promised that without ARRA, unemployment go above 8%. Well it hit 10% in 2009 and it hasn't been below 8% since Obama was inaugurated.

If supporters of the President want to claim that it could have been worse, then the Administration's detractors can claim that it could have been better. And history is on the side of the detractors.

The Drug War: Don't look to me to defend this morally bankrupt policy. I have no problem with the decriminalization and legalization of any and all substances currently prohibited by the government. Just don't ask me to pay for the junkies' health bills. Heavy excise taxes should be imposed on all the drugs that we legalize in order to pay for their inevitable cost to society, like we currently do for cigarettes and (to a lesser extent) alcohol.

Rana Foroohar: Is it just me, or did it look like she wanted to fuck Chris Matthews every time he opened his mouth? Actually, I think she just has one of those faces.

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