Posts Tagged ‘Ezra Klein’

GTSCW: Budget Edition

July 7, 2011 5 comments
Ezra Klein asked the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to help him with the numbers for this graph. As you can see, Obama is engaged in obvious class warfare… the President should be more like Reagan.

Tricky Math

June 17, 2011 5 comments

A little over a week ago everyone from economists, bloggers, and politicians lambasted Tim Pawlenty for making his ridiculous claim that if he was president he’d achieve 5% economic growth for a decade. It’s nuts for a variety of reasons and Klein passed on a zinger from Alan Blinder:

Trend growth is three percent or so,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Five percent growth would be two percentage points higher, which should cut the unemployment rate by about one percentage point per year. So after 10 years, it will have fallen from nine percent to minus-one percent. Nice trick!

At the time, I thought the criticism was probably hyperbole designed to highlight the absurdity of Pawlenty’s idea – I wasn’t sure though. Now today Klein repeats Blinder’s remark and, at risk of looking foolish, I’m curious if it’s meant to be serious (even if “cheeky”). As Klein shares, the “speed limit” on the economic growth rate is basically the growth in productivity plus the growth in the labor force. Now, I realize that achieving that level of growth is completely unrealistic (and crazy to think a president can do anything that would directly cause it), but it doesn’t seem like it is impossible as Klein implies in multiple blog posts.

Sure, the labor force isn’t going to grow large enough without improbable immigration, but if the right mix of policy reforms coincided with a revolutionary invention that drove a sky-high productivity increase, couldn’t we  achieve 5% growth for a decade without having negative unemployment?

Are Klein and Blinder just joking or is it actually impossible? If it is impossible, what am I missing?

3 Cheers!

May 23, 2011 1 comment

Over the weekend Ezra Klein asked, “What three cocktails should everyone — or at least everyone over 21 who likes to make cocktails — know how to make?” Well, since I bartend on the weekends I figured I’d offer my perspective:


The Sidecar Cocktail

The sidecar is a classic cocktail that provides a great example of how to make lots of other cocktails. It teaches us about balance. During the renaissance many architects utilized the golden ratio which was functional and aesthetically pleasing. Mixologists can approach building drinks in a similar way.

Generally speaking many well-balanced drinks will be around 4 parts spirit, 2 parts sweet ingredient, 1 part sour ingredient. Margaritas work well with the true golden ratio of 3-2-1; but as a tequila lover I think 4 parts work great for that too. A lot of restaurants use 2-1-1, which works but I prefer to taste a little more of the spirit and the balance of sweet to sour of 4-2-1. So go ahead and start creating new drinks following that basic formula and you’re bound to have more successes than failures.

My preference:

  • 4 parts cognac
  • 2 parts Cointreau
  • 1 part lemon juice


Garnish with lemon peel.

Tradition & Style

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

America’s first cocktail! The name actually refers to the way a drink was made, but now it’s a specific drink. Easily one of the most mangled cocktails – I understand why few people think they like them. But a good Old Fashioned can showcase what is enjoyable about cocktails.  This is also a really fun cocktail to make because of the differing philosophies for Old Fashioneds.

Some bartenders use a traditional sugar cube while some prefer the more easily dissolvable simple syrup. Some muddle fruit, some don’t. You could garnish with the classic lemon or the more popular orange and cherry. All should use bitters, but the amount and type vary and make a big difference. Techniques to build the drink vary  – experiment.

My preference:

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1/2 oz Simple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 2 dashes Orange Bitters


Garnish with (flamed!) orange peel, no cherry.


The Martini Cocktail

Everyone needs to know this essential cocktail. I’m not going to give you a long lecture about martinis – so overplayed. Yes, the classic is made with gin not vodka, but whatever you like just order (if you’re expecting vodka make sure you tell your bartender that). James Bond was wrong to order it shaken… blah blah. Everyone likes to pontificate about the effects of stirring versus shaking. Here’s the truth – it’s just about presentation. If you don’t want a cloudy drink you should stir it. It takes a little longer (barely) but you get a beautiful crystal clear cocktail. General rule of thumb: stir clear ingredients, shake cloudy ones. Whichever method do it enough to dilute the ice and properly chill the drink.

Ratio and style of martinis vary a lot and many are good in their own ways. Some classicists loath dirty martinis. Don’t get them started on a dirty vodka martini. I like them; that’s their problem. Also, no one (sadly) orders sweet martinis (using sweet vermouth) anymore so no need to ask for it dry.  My one pet peeve: always use some vermouth and then use more than that. A glass of gin or vodka is not a martini. It’s a glass of gin or vodka.

I have many different preferences on this one – for forgotten classic:

  • 3 parts Gin
  • 1 part Dry Vermouth
  • dash orange bitters


Garnish with lemon twist.

Categories: Ezra Klein Tags:

When Unbearable Debt Meets Unsustainable Political Support

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Many idealists think we can just inform the public enough to understand the best policies to govern ourselves. Unfortunately tilting at windmills seems more productive. Policies gain and maintain support not by voter knowledge but by voter experience. I don’t care how many TV specials or column inches get devoted to explaining that congestion pricing is better for drivers – it will only reach a critical mass of support when drivers experience the benefits outweighing its costs.

As a pure political argument, do you think hugely slashing defense spending is a winner? Maybe right now. What about the months after 9/11? Voters have no idea what the practical differences are of a few hundred billion more or a few hundred billion less in spending on the military. If the country feels safe they’ll support a low level of defense spending (assuming that the level is compatible with actual and perceived safety). Are high tax rates politically sustainable? If there is strong economic growth, yes. Of course if they’re too high and they weaken growth they’re not sustainable. Bill Clinton easily won reelection and somehow maintained higher tax rates that many currently think would be politically reckless to advocate. Those tax rates even gave us a surplus and would do a lot to balance our budget. What’s the difference? Clinton didn’t explain it better – he presided over a growing economy. Clinton even won large percentages of wealthy voters (not majorities though). Today, growth is anemic.

What does this tell us about any debt reduction plan? Since future congresses will have to keep any policies in place that balance the budget, the policies can’t be incompatible with voters’ improving experiences. Paul Ryan’s medicare “fix” isn’t bad because it is unfair or ideologically conservative – even if you forced everyone to read and love Atlas Shrugged it wouldn’t fix the deficit. When the elderly start getting vouchers that decrease in value (they grow at the rate of inflation but healthcare grows faster) they’ll see their situation as steadily deteriorate and vote to change the policy.  That doesn’t mean that benefits need exponential growth to maintain support, but shifting the cost to consumers also doesn’t work. Public debt means higher taxes and less ability to spend elsewhere while private debt directly consumes personal wealth that reduces demand and economic growth. That’s why costs need to be contained not payments. Ezra points out that smaller versions of Ryan’s plan failed:

Various states have gotten waivers to radically remake their Medicaid program, and the consumer-driven model that Ryan is proposing for Medicare has been attempted in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and Medicare Advantage. None of these programs have worked, which is why we’re in our current predicament.

Voters need to feel that their overall well-being is improving which means holding down costs in a way that doesn’t prevent economic growth. A growing economy makes every policy sustainable; the trick is to pick solutions that don’t kill economic growth. Paul Ryan correctly realizes that medicare can’t be an open-ended commitment because doing so would eventually harm the economy. His numbers don’t add up, the distribution is unjust, and its prospects are inconceivable but we can debate the merits of it as policy. He should be commended for offering something tangible even as we reveal its flaws. Are there other solutions?

The Kaiser Family Foundation compares some proposals. Many Democrats think strengthening the Independent Payment Advisory Board holds promise. Introducing a dedicated VAT to government healthcare spending always made sense to me – that way it explicitly ties what we’re willing to spend to what is politically sustainable.

Politicians should remember that the single best thing they could do to reduce the deficit is choose policies that maximize economic growth (even if that means taking advantage of cheap borrowing now). Yet, our debt is so large more must be done. Since the major problem is too many retirees relative to able workers, we could change one policy that no one seems to notice would dramatically help. Increase the number of young workers… otherwise known as immigrants. Obviously immigrants age too so it’s not a magic bullet, but anything that keeps the dependency ratio at a reasonable level would be enormously helpful.

Another aspect of immigration policy that needs consideration (since we can’t feasibly let in enough migrants completely solve everything) are temporary workers. Temporary workers are great because they come at almost no cost to the taxpayer. We don’t have to educate them and we don’t have to pay for their retirement, but they grow the economy and pay taxes. As Matthew McConaughey might observe, high school girls and temporary immigrants have a lot in common: they “stay the same age.”

Much more needs to be done, but anything that passes must maintain support.

Real America: Home of the… Cry Babies?

March 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Everyone should check out this interview Ezra Klein had with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack after Klein praised cities. If you want the short version, rural people get generous yet economically inefficient subsidies and constant praise from politicians, but are sad because not enough journalists speak up for them. So now we know where this “Real America vs Coastal elites” complex comes from. You’d think they’d be happy with billions of dollars in subsidies and overrepresentation in Congress, but I guess we have to thank them for that too.

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Reforming the Filibuster

December 23, 2010 2 comments

All of the Senate Democrats have signed onto a letter expressing their support for reforming the filibuster. This is great news. The filibuster isn’t a noble refuge for a principled Senator as glamorized in Mr. Smith goes to Washington; it is a devise of minority obstruction that prevents the legislature from legislating and undermines the system the Founding Fathers actually set up. Right now the electorate can’t actually judge the majority party on the policies they favor. Ezra Klein’s March Newweek piece remains one of the better recent cases against the filibuster.

[R]ecall that the filibuster is an accident, and there is nothing radical or strange about majority voting: we use it for elections (Scott Brown won with 51 percent of the vote, not 60 percent), Supreme Court decisions, and the House of Representatives. As for a majority using its power unwisely, elections can remedy that. And voters can better judge Washington based on what it has done than on what it has been obstructed from doing.

Say you’re a conservative and you want to repeal healthcare reform, privatize social security, simplify the tax code, or pass whatever else your heart desires, now imagine that in 2012 you keep control of the House, take over the Senate and end up with 59 Senators, win the presidency, and all those policy wishes are polling extremely favorably with the American public, which just completely repudiated the Democrats. Guess what? You can’t do any of it if the Democrats commit to a filibuster. And if the filibuster trend continues this seems like it will become a routine scenario.

Gumming Up the Works.jpg

In interest of fairness and bipartisanship here is the absolute best case against reforming the Senate rules that Matthew Yglesias wrote sometime early last April.

The story, as told by Randolph and recounted by Moncure Daniel Conway is that “Jefferson called Washington to account at the breakfast table for having agreed to a second chamber. ‘Why,’ asked Washington, ‘did you pour that coffee into your saucer?’ ‘To cool it,’ quoth Jefferson. ‘Even so,’ said Washington, ‘we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.’”

Obviously, even to this day nobody would think of drinking coffee without first deploying their cooling saucer. That’s why every office in America has, in its kitchen, not only a coffee machine but also an accompanying cooling saucer. Visit your local Starbucks and ask about their cooling saucer. Now try to imagine the nightmare of coffee poured directly from the machine into the cup—that’d be your Senate-less America, a grim and scalding place.

The Most Important Lesson For Elected Officials

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

In Ezra Klein’s recent post juxtaposing David Brooks from 2005 with David Brooks now is worth a read, but Klein writes 2 sentences that every politician should have tattooed to the inside of their eye lids (one on each?).

You don’t win elections in order to win more elections. You win elections in order to solve problems and make the country better.

Most people probably think that is self-evident, but it seems most politicians easily lose sight of that. Here’s Mitch McConnell forgetting,

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

Don’t think Democrats don’t forget as well. Yglesias reminds Democrats that if they focused on governing better they wouldn’t be losing elections. Even if you’re self-interested enough and want your main goal to be reelection that shouldn’t prevent you from governing better – you just can’t be so myopic.

Speaking to The New York Times‘ Peter Baker for a profile published last week, Obama said his administration “probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right” and drew the lesson that “you can’t be neglectful of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”

Marketing and public relations are nice, but opinion is fundamentally driven by results. And on this, Obama has it backward.


The issue is not so much that the administration needed to be more or less moderate, rather that it needed to be more effective in boosting the economy and more mindful of the central role it plays in politics. This matters because, to point out the obvious, the economic outlook is still bleak. Enhanced post-election focus on marketing and PR won’t turn that around. In other words, all the marketing and PR in the world won’t succeed in moving public opinion, meaning Democrats could easily have another round of election losses to look forward to.

Martin Wolf feels similarly,

The president’s willingness to ask for too little was, it turns out, a huge strategic error. It allows his opponents to argue that the Democrats had what they wanted, which then failed. If the president had failed to get what he demanded, he could argue that the outcome was not his fault. With a political stalemate expected, further action will now be blocked. A lost decade seems quite likely. That would be a calamity for the US – and the world.

Every time an elected official compromises what he thinks will be best for the economy for political purposes he’s sowing the seeds of his own defeat. Certainly certain compromises might be necessary to pass a particular bill, but as Wolf points out, when you make it seem like you got what you wanted you’ve trapped yourself. Not only that, but Democrats willingness to give up the rhetorical fight for stronger stimulus (or for any stimulus) weakens them for the future. If they aren’t willing to defend the idea of stimulus (assuming they still actually think it can be productive) how do they think they can gain support for using fiscal policy in the future?

I really don’t understand the long-term strategy of not making the case for the policies you want. Obviously if you want them you think they are the best policies; by undercutting the case for those things you’re just making it harder to get what you want. President Obama continues to make policy compromises that weaken policy only to get no Republican votes, no acknowledgment of compromise, no positive electoral gains, and…. compromised and weakened policy. Here’s my advice.

Stop looking at the next election, close your eyes and recognize why you’re in office.

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