URLs du Jour


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  • Ask Drew Carey if the price is right. Or maybe not. I rarely post book reviews here, but this one was intriguing: Adam Rowe looks at The Price of Time by Edward Chancellor.

    After the financial crisis of 2008, the dread of economic collapse gave way to yet another exuberant bull market. All sorts of asset classes—industrial commodities, house prices, stocks—soared to irrational extremes. “Never before in history had so many asset price bubbles inflated simultaneously,” Edward Chancellor writes in “The Price of Time,” a sweeping historical analysis of how our financial system once again became untethered from the world it is supposed to serve.

    At the heart of such derangement, Mr. Chancellor argues, is a single factor: artificially low interest rates. As he reminds us, interest rates are the most important signal in a market-based economy, “the universal price” affecting all others. Interest is best defined as the time value of money, which Mr. Chancellor artfully renders as “the price of time.” It is the price that informs every key financial decision—saving, spending, investing. Suppressing the rate of interest is a powerful way to boost an economy otherwise bound for recession, but it is a dangerous one. It is to finance what opiates are to medicine, a distortion of perception disguised as a cure.

    After 2008, Mr. Chancellor notes, “central bankers pushed interest rates to their lowest level in five millennia.” The move seemed like a success at first, averting deflation and mass unemployment. But behind this immediate result lurked structural problems that the bankers had left to fester. Low rates have compounded “our current woes,” Mr. Chancellor says. These include “the collapse of productivity growth, unaffordable housing, rising inequality, the loss of market competition” and—as we may all feel right now—“financial fragility.”

    That's… interesting. In general, government-imposed price controls generate all sorts of mischief and misery. But that's exactly what the Fed does when it fiddles with interest rates: controlling the price of money.

    So: why do we make such a big fuss about other kinds of price controls, but are relatively silent about the Fed?

    And what would happen if the Fed stopped doing that?

    Would we still need the Fed?

    I don't know the answers to those questions. I have to read this book, obviously. Only $12.99 on Kindle. Hmmm…

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    As I said, I rarely do this. But I might as well do it twice today. Steven McGuire looks at another new book, It’s Not Free Speech by Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth, respectively a literature prof at Penn State and a "professor of film" at Portland State.

    Executive summary: it's not good.

    Bérubé and Ruth “have long been involved with the AAUP” (the American Association of University Professors) and claim to be “deeply committed to academic freedom.” Now, they question their previous liberal principles and believe that academic freedom must be revised to enshrine critical race theory.

    As they explain, “We (here, we literally mean our two selves) are classic examples of the white left-liberal stunned by Trump’s election and by wave upon wave of police and vigilante killings of Black men and women into thinking much more critically.” Further, “the advent of Trumpism, and the increasingly open expressions of fascism and neo-Nazism in the United States, place unbearable pressure on liberal shibboleths about how the so-called marketplace of ideas actually works in reality.” In response to these events, they have immersed themselves in critical race theory and now believe that “a robust theory of academic freedom must be premised on an equality that goes beyond formal equality, one that is not devoted to a false universality but rather sees color, gender, differing ability, etc.” Their central argument is that academic freedom should be redefined to exclude white supremacists.

    One wishes that “left-liberals” like Bérubé and Ruth, who are so concerned about Trump’s election, would reflect “more critically” on the “unbearable pressure” their own reactions to it have placed on the rest of us to defend the principles and institutions of this country. Instead, Bérubé and Ruth recommend revising the definition of academic freedom and instituting academic freedom committees that could institutionally subject scholars and teachers to moral panics and political litmus tests. It is an extreme overreaction. As others have noted, it is also bizarre that they have written a whole book arguing that white supremacist professors should be fired while offering remarkably few examples of people who they think should be fired. Even in the case of Amy Wax, who is one of their primary targets, they admit that “while we see Wax’s beliefs as disqualifying, this view is not shared widely.”

    McGuire notes that the authors cast a very vague and fuzzy net when discussing the people they want to banish from academia. Basically: let's set up the witch-hunting tribunals first, and then start setting up the litmus tests for witches. ( "She turned me into a newt!")

    Probably won't be reading this one.

  • In addition to the Fed… J.D. Tuccille offers a plea for civil peace and harmony in our time, by uniting against a common enemy. Something Upon Which Americans Can Agree: The FBI and the IRS Suck.

    There's no doubt that both the FBI and IRS are having a tough moment with the public. Perceptions that the national police agency is at war with half of the population have eroded its standing, while Biden administration plans to super-size the tax-collection agency further sour public perceptions of that never-popular arm of government. It might all be very depressing if you work in the public sector, or you could say that Americans are finally gaining a more realistic assessment of deeply flawed federal enforcers.

    Over the past week, headlines have featured massive increases in funding for the IRS and a job ad seeking tax collectors "willing to use deadly force" as well as a high-profile raid by the FBI on the Mar-a-Lago home of former President Donald Trump unprecedented in the country's history. If any publicity is good publicity, this should have been a shining moment for government arm-twisters. But both agencies are viewed with suspicion by much of the public and suffer continuously sliding approval ratings.

    As bad as you think the IRS and FBI are, J.D.'s article might convince you that they're worse than you thought.

    Unfortunately, people tend to forget their former cynicism about those agencies if they're being controlled by the right people.

  • Because of course they did. In case you had any doubts about our CongressCritters' lack of independence, Michael Graham will dispel them: Kuster, Pappas Join Party-Line Vote to Pass $739B Spending Bill.

    President Joe Biden went 4-0 with New Hampshire’s federal delegation on the revised version of the Build Back Better bill when it passed the House on Friday in a party-line 220-207 vote. Despite political headwinds and campaign ads declaring they “stand up to their party,” both Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas voted for the $739 billion spending package that includes hundreds of billions in green energy subsidies, tax increases on oil and gas, and $80 billion to increase IRS audits and collections.

    The so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” — which advocates now acknowledge would have minimal impact on inflation — passed the U.S. Senate on a partisan 50-50 vote with the support of Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.

    Unfortunately, according to a recent poll, the most likely GOP candidates to go up against Pappas in November are an intelligence-insulting hack and a 2020 election truther. And the leading candidate to oppose Maggie Hassan is a guy who favored amending the Constitution to overturn the SCOTUS Citizens United decision and has called Governor Sununu a "Chinese Communist sympathizer” whose family business “supports terrorism".

    It's sad when the best argument for voting Republican is that they aren't Democrats.

  • Also sucking: utilitarianism. I'm gonna blog all four parts of Russ Roberts' critique. Here's an excerpt from part 2. where he offers an anecdote against avoiding charities that spend a lot of money on fundraising instead of … you know … their putative mission.

    Dan Pallotta has argued eloquently against this single-minded scalar failure of using overhead as a measure of effectiveness. In 2002 his organization’s 3-day bike-a-thons collected $118 million to fight breast cancer.

    They were able to do that by offering riders an incredible experience which helped motivate them to participate and excel at raising money. But that required resources and a skilled staff to create an unforgettable experience for the riders.

    The overhead underlying the $118 million was a seemingly unconscionable 40%. “Only” $71 million was available to fight breast cancer. Embarrassed by the magnitude of the 40%, charities fighting breast cancer decided to stop using Pallotta’s organization and instead put on the bike-a-thons themselves. The next year they collected $60 million less than the year before. Was that a better world?

    Nope. And just as a reminder, the Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon is coming up next week.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 3:54 PM EDT