Two For Today:Brooks and Krugman


Here are two recent columns from the New York Times. The NYT does make mistakes (William Kristol, the ultra-right author comes to mind.), but overall they have a great reputation for mainstream, enlightened journalism.
David Brooks anchors the conservative end of the spectrum. He was a supporter of McCain and Lieberman, in 2006 proposing a third party with them at the head. A supporter of the war in Afghanistan, he was previously a columnist for the failing right-wing Moonie newspaper, The Washington Times.
July 19, 2010

The Technocracy Boom

By DAVID BROOKS

When historians look back on the period between 2001 and 2011, they will be amazed that a nation that professed to hate bureaucracy produced so much of it.

During the first part of this period, the Republicans were in control. They expanded a vast national security bureaucracy. In their series in The Washington Post, Dana Priest and William M. Arkin detail the size of this apparatus. More than 1,200 government agencies and 1,900 private companies work on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence programs at around 10,000 sites across the country. An estimated 854,000 people have top-secret security clearance. These analysts produce 50,000 reports a year — a flow of paper so great that many are completely ignored.

In the second part of the period, Democrats were in control. They augmented the national security bureaucracy but spent the bulk of their energies expanding bureaucracies in domestic spheres.

First, they passed a health care law. This law created 183 new agencies, commissions, panels and other bodies, according to an analysis by Robert E. Moffit of the Heritage Foundation. These include things like the Quality Assurance and Performance Improvement Program, an Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee and a Cures Acceleration Network Review Board.

The purpose of the new apparatus was simple: to give government experts the power to analyze and rationalize the nation’s health care system. A team of experts on the newly created Independent Medicare Advisory Council was ordered to review and streamline Medicare. A team of experts within the Office of Personnel Management was directed to help set standards for insurance companies in the health care exchanges. Teams of experts serving on comparative effectiveness boards were told to survey data and determine which medical treatments work best and most efficiently.

Democrats also passed a financial reform law. The law that originally created the Federal Reserve was a mere 31 pages. The Sarbanes-Oxley banking reform act, passed in 2002, was only 66 pages. But the 2010 financial reform law was 2,319 pages, an intricately engineered technocratic apparatus. As Mark J. Perry of the American Enterprise Institute noted, the financial reform law is seven times longer than the last five pieces of banking legislation combined.

Once again, government experts were told to take a complex, decentralized system — in this case the financial markets — and impose rules, rationality and order. The law creates one über-panel, the Financial Stability Oversight Council. It directs government experts to write rules in 243 separate areas.

The law also calls upon government experts to make some heroic judgments. For example, it calls upon regulators to break up banks that might be about to pose a risk to the country’s economy. That is to say, investors may believe a bank is stable. The executives of the bank may believe it is stable. But the regulators are called upon to exercise their superior vision and determine which banks are stable and which are not.

When historians look back on this period, they will see it as another progressive era. It is not a liberal era — when government intervenes to seize wealth and power and distribute it to the have-nots. It’s not a conservative era, when the governing class concedes that the world is too complicated to be managed from the center. It’s a progressive era, based on the faith in government experts and their ability to use social science analysis to manage complex systems.

This progressive era is being promulgated without much popular support. It’s being led by a large class of educated professionals, who have been trained to do technocratic analysis, who believe that more analysis and rule-writing is the solution to social breakdowns, and who have constructed ever-expanding networks of offices, schools and contracts.

Already this effort is generating a fierce, almost culture-war-style backlash. It is generating a backlash among people who do not have faith in Washington, who do not have faith that trained experts have superior abilities to organize society, who do not believe national rules can successfully contend with the intricacies of local contexts and cultures.

This progressive era amounts to a high-stakes test. If the country remains safe and the health care and financial reforms work, then we will have witnessed a life-altering event. We’ll have received powerful evidence that central regulations can successfully organize fast-moving information-age societies.

If the reforms fail — if they kick off devastating unintended consequences or saddle the country with a maze of sclerotic regulations — then the popular backlash will be ferocious. Large sectors of the population will feel as if they were subjected to a doomed experiment they did not consent to. They will feel as if their country has been hijacked by a self-serving professional class mostly interested in providing for themselves.

If that backlash gains strength, well, what’s the 21st-century version of the guillotine?

=======================================

If Brooks is the NYT right wing, Paul Krugman is the the liberal writer in the NYT. A Nobel winning economist who continues to call Obama to move to be more progressive. His well-reasoned arguments for greater support of the economy calls for more stimulus to prevent a second recession this and next year. He does not ignore the danger of the current deficit but argues that an expanded economy will easily let us pay it off–while also paying off the Reagan/Bush nine trillion deficit; especially if we simultaneously reduce extraneous wasteful spending on military-industrial complex.

July 25, 2010

Who Cooked the Planet?

By PAUL KRUGMAN

Never say that the gods lack a sense of humor. I bet they’re still chuckling on Olympus over the decision to make the first half of 2010 — the year in which all hope of action to limit climate change died — the hottest such stretch on record.

Of course, you can’t infer trends in global temperatures from one year’s experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say “See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!” Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we’re currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn’t work even on its own terms.

But will any of the deniers say “O.K., I guess I was wrong,” and support climate action? No. And the planet will continue to cook.

So why didn’t climate-change legislation get through the Senate? Let’s talk first about what didn’t cause the failure, because there have been many attempts to blame the wrong people.

First of all, we didn’t fail to act because of legitimate doubts about the science. Every piece of valid evidence — long-term temperature averages that smooth out year-to-year fluctuations, Arctic sea ice volume, melting of glaciers, the ratio of record highs to record lows — points to a continuing, and quite possibly accelerating, rise in global temperatures.

Nor is this evidence tainted by scientific misbehavior. You’ve probably heard about the accusations leveled against climate researchers — allegations of fabricated data, the supposedly damning e-mail messages of “Climategate,” and so on. What you may not have heard, because it has received much less publicity, is that every one of these supposed scandals was eventually unmasked as a fraud concocted by opponents of climate action, then bought into by many in the news media. You don’t believe such things can happen? Think Shirley Sherrod.

Did reasonable concerns about the economic impact of climate legislation block action? No. It has always been funny, in a gallows humor sort of way, to watch conservatives who laud the limitless power and flexibility of markets turn around and insist that the economy would collapse if we were to put a price on carbon. All serious estimates suggest that we could phase in limits on greenhouse gas emissions with at most a small impact on the economy’s growth rate.

So it wasn’t the science, the scientists, or the economics that killed action on climate change. What was it?

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries — above all, the coal and oil industries — would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.

Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.

By itself, however, greed wouldn’t have triumphed. It needed the aid of cowardice — above all, the cowardice of politicians who know how big a threat global warming poses, who supported action in the past, but who deserted their posts at the crucial moment.

There are a number of such climate cowards, but let me single out one in particular: Senator John McCain.

There was a time when Mr. McCain was considered a friend of the environment. Back in 2003 he burnished his maverick image by co-sponsoring legislation that would have created a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. He reaffirmed support for such a system during his presidential campaign, and things might look very different now if he had continued to back climate action once his opponent was in the White House. But he didn’t — and it’s hard to see his switch as anything other than the act of a man willing to sacrifice his principles, and humanity’s future, for the sake of a few years added to his political career.

Alas, Mr. McCain wasn’t alone; and there will be no climate bill. Greed, aided by cowardice, has triumphed. And the whole world will pay the price.

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