Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why don't economists promote marriage?

Megan McArdle has the answer:

College improves your earning prospects. So does marriage. Education makes you more likely to live longer. So does marriage. Yet while many economist [sic] vocally support initiatives to move more people into college, very few of them vocally favor initiatives to get more people married. Why is that ... ? ...

[A]ll economists are, definitionally, very good at college. Not all economists are good at marriage. Saying that more people should go to college will make 0% of your colleagues feel bad. Saying that more people should get married and stay married will make a significant fraction of your colleagues feel bad. And in general, most people have an aversion to topics which are likely to trigger a personal grudge in a coworker.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The clearest way to see that widespread same-sex marriage is inevitable

You always hear people (like Senator Rob Portman) saying they used to be opposed to it, but have seen the light through experience and introspection, and now realize it's the right thing to do. You never hear anyone say they used to support it, but have seen the light, and now realize it's the wrong thing to do.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"This is fiscal child abuse pure and simple . . .

. . . and [Paul] Krugman should be ashamed of his contribution to it."

So says Laurence Kotlikoff (who was a third-party presidential candidate in 2012). More:

The U.S. fiscal gap of $222 trillion is enormous and totally unsustainable. But rather than discuss the fiscal gap, Krugman discusses the official debt which is one-twentieth as large and . . . a measure of the government's words, not its policies.

Of course, once you have the emperor convinced that his new clothes are for real, you can take full advantage of his ignorance. Krugman is doing this with his readers. He's taking advantage of their ignorance by showing that a non-measure of government sustainability, intentionally designed to be as small as possible, is not of major concern. And in claiming that the long-run is distinct in terms of policy from the short run and can be ignored until we reach it, he's persuading his readers that they needn't worry about the fiscal Sword of Damocles suspending over our children's heads. . . .

There is not a single dynamic model of the economy's dynamic transition being published in leading economics journals that doesn't include the constraint that the fiscal gap be zero. But Krugman simply discards what we academic economists call the government's intertemporal budget constraint.

Let's be clear. Generationally speaking, paying for the government's spending is a zero sum game. Eliminating the fiscal gap -- satisfying the government's intertemporal budget constraint -- requires either a) an immediate and permanent 64 percent hike in all federal taxes or b) an immediate and permanent 35 percent cut in all projected government outlays including those called "interest and principal." If we wait a decade to take our medicine, these figures become 70 percent and 38 percent respectively. And, guess what? In that case, our children will face even higher taxes or lower spending over their precious lives.
To put the fiscal gap of $222 trillion in perspective, the whole United States GDP is only about $15 trillion. Kotlikoff adds:
These aren't my estimates of the fiscal gap or what's needed to close it. They are my calculations based on the Congressional Budget Office's long-term fiscal forecast called the Alternative Fiscal Scenario. The CBO publishes this forecast in June each year. Last June the fiscal gap was $222 trillion. In June 2011 it was $211 trillion. It rose by $11 trillion between 2011 and 2012, which is the same amount as the entire stock of federal debt! The reason, in large part, is that baby boomers got one year closer to cashing in on all those Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid payments which they are owed, but which have conveniently been ignored in tallying up federal debt.
Here's Kotlikoff talking about this problem with Glenn Loury:

Friday, March 8, 2013

Bill Clinton admits the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and discriminatory

Clinton writes:

As the president who signed the act into law, I have come to believe that DOMA is ... , in fact, incompatible with our Constitution.

Because Section 3 of the act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, same-sex couples who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to other married couples. Among other things, these couples cannot file their taxes jointly, take unpaid leave to care for a sick or injured spouse or receive equal family health and pension benefits as federal civilian employees. Yet they pay taxes, contribute to their communities and, like all couples, aspire to live in committed, loving relationships, recognized and respected by our laws.

When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that "enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination." Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Holocaust was even worse than we thought

The New York Times explains:

[R]esearchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington. ...

The documented camps include not only “killing centers” but also thousands of forced labor camps, where prisoners manufactured war supplies; prisoner-of-war camps; sites euphemistically named “care” centers, where pregnant women were forced to have abortions or their babies were killed after birth; and brothels, where women were coerced into having sex with German military personnel.

Auschwitz and a handful of other concentration camps have come to symbolize the Nazi killing machine in the public consciousness. Likewise, the Nazi system for imprisoning Jewish families in hometown ghettos has become associated with a single site — the Warsaw Ghetto, famous for the 1943 uprising. But these sites, infamous though they are, represent only a minuscule fraction of the entire German network, the new research makes painfully clear.

The maps the researchers have created to identify the camps and ghettos turn wide sections of wartime Europe into black clusters of death, torture and slavery — centered in Germany and Poland, but reaching in all directions. ...

When the research began in 2000, Dr. Megargee said he expected to find perhaps 7,000 Nazi camps and ghettos, based on postwar estimates. But the numbers kept climbing — first to 11,500, then 20,000, then 30,000, and now 42,500.

The numbers astound: 30,000 slave labor camps; 1,150 Jewish ghettos; 980 concentration camps; 1,000 prisoner-of-war camps; 500 brothels filled with sex slaves; and thousands of other camps used for euthanizing the elderly and infirm, performing forced abortions, “Germanizing” prisoners or transporting victims to killing centers.

In Berlin alone, researchers have documented some 3,000 camps and so-called Jew houses, while Hamburg held 1,300 sites.

Dr. Dean, a co-researcher, said the findings left no doubt in his mind that many German citizens, despite the frequent claims of ignorance after the war, must have known about the widespread existence of the Nazi camps at the time.

“You literally could not go anywhere in Germany without running into forced labor camps, P.O.W. camps, concentration camps,” he said. “They were everywhere.”