This is your periodic reminder that six months ago the president of the United States fired the director of the FBI. Then he went on national TV and admitted that he had done it because he was exasperated with Comey’s investigation of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign (“this Russia thing”). And then nothing happened.
Tyler Cowen has been pushing back for a while against liberal disgust with the Republican tax bill. On Friday he linked to a couple of studies suggesting that low corporate tax rates are linked to both stronger growth and higher wages. “I’ve been reading in this area on and off since the 1980s,” he says, “and I really don’t think these are phony results.”
That may well be true. But as always, the question is “compared to what?” Liberal criticism of the tax bill has been largely motivated by obviously bogus claims for enormous wage gains and huge economic growth. These claims are little short of flat-out lies. But is it possible that a corporate rate cut will eventually produce small wage gains? Sure. And most conventional analyses also predict some economic growth. It’s just very, very small.
There’s also the question of the starting point. If tax rates are very high, cuts can have noticeable effects. If they’re already very low, cuts are unlikely to do much. And corporate taxes in America are already very low:
Cutting corporate taxes from 2 percent of GDP to 1.5 percent of GDP might have some effect that trickles down to the broader economy, but it’s not likely to be more than crumbs. On the other hand, a lot of rich individuals will get considerably richer. I think it’s safe to say that this is the real motivation here.
Via Harold Pollack, here’s a new study that will probably not surprise you—but should incense you. Heather Sarsons, a graduate student at Harvard, examined Medicare data to determine how doctors referred patients to specialists for surgery. In particular, did they treat male and female surgeons differently?
The answer is pretty simple: oh my, yes. Sarsons used matched panels of surgeons who were equally qualified and had similar records of surgical outcomes. But primary care doctors didn’t treat them the same. If a patient unexpectedly died after surgery, most doctors continued referring patients to male surgeons at about the same rate. But referrals to female surgeons plummeted:
In the case of male surgeons, an unexpected death is apparently treated as just something that happens sometimes. In the case of female surgeons, it’s taken as a sign of poor surgical skill. And it’s not just the surgeon herself who suffers. So do all her colleagues:
Again, referrals to male surgeons stay about the same. But if a female surgeon suffers an unexpected death, referrals to all female surgeons plummet. And just to make an obvious point clear, this has real-world implications for how much money they make:
What’s happening here is hardly uncommon. Minorities of all kinds are often treated as representatives of their entire group. If one fails, it reflects on all of them. But the same isn’t true of members of majority groups. There, a failure is usually taken as a chance occurrence. Not only doesn’t it reflect on their entire group, it often doesn’t even reflect on them personally.
If you’re white or male, you’d never see this. Even if you’re not, it might not be noticeable. If you experience a failure and subsequently get fewer referrals from a doctor, you might shrug and consider that a normal response, never knowing that your male colleagues aren’t treated the same way. Literally everyone might be totally unaware this is happening. It’s only when you dig deeply into the dusty, boring data that you discover this kind of rampant systemic privilege.
A couple of days ago I saw a tweet about a provision of the Republican tax bill that gave owners of private airplanes a tax break. That seemed well worth a snarky blog post, but then I foolishly checked up on what the provision actually did. It…wasn’t really that bad. So I never wrote about it.
This morning, however, the folks at National Review discovered that this tax provision had been cosponsored by a Democrat, and suddenly it became “disgraceful…rightly mocked.” That’s politics, I guess. But in case you’re curious, here’s the story, as explained by the Joint Committee on Taxation (p. 50-52):
When you fly on a commercial jet, you pay an excise tax on the ticket price. But what if you fly your own plane? Until 2012 there was no excise tax on private flights. After all, there’s no ticket price if you own the plane. This makes it critical to determine who has “possession, command, and control” of the aircraft, and in 2012 the IRS ruled that if you hire a management company to take care of your plane, you have effectively given up control. Therefore, the management company is providing transportation to the owner and is required to collect the appropriate federal excise tax.
A year later the IRS suspended audit assessments for taxes on aircraft management services, and in 2017, after losing a court case, more or less gave up on it. So this provision of the bill clears things up by specifying exactly which activities from a management company count as taxable and which don’t:
- Exempt payments are those amounts paid by an aircraft owner for management services related to maintenance and support of the owner’s aircraft or flights on the owner’s aircraft.
- Applicable services include support activities related to the aircraft itself, such as its storage, maintenance, and fueling, and those related to its operation, such as the hiring and training of pilots and crew, as well as administrative services such as scheduling, flight planning, weather forecasting, obtaining insurance, and establishing and complying with safety standards.
I don’t truly understand the distinctions here, but there doesn’t really appear to be anything corrupt going on. As for why the amendment was sponsored by the bipartisan team of Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, it’s because they’re the senators from Ohio, and Ohio is where NetJets is headquartered. They’re the ones who sued the IRS earlier this year and won, so their home state senators were the obvious ones to take an interest and make the tax code clear on what’s taxable and what isn’t.
Check out the tongue action! It’s a good thing cats don’t see the pictures we post of them. If they did, we’d all be toast.
Also note Hopper photobombing Hilbert in the background. She’s a slick one, that Hopper.
There are reasons to take this with a grain of salt. The CRS report it’s based on includes purely humanitarian missions (“2014: Southern Philippines Humanitarian Assistance for Typhoon Bopha”) and it also seems to count separate actions in a single conflict as distinct uses of force (1994 includes five separate entries for Bosnia).
That said, we sure do send our military abroad a lot, don’t we? If I’ve counted correctly the longest span without a military action overseas was 1934-40, when I guess we were too busy with the Depression to flex our muscles.
Another lesson learned today: never give Republicans the benefit of the doubt. It’s not as if I make a habit of this, but every once in a while I go soft. And it always comes back to haunt me.
Here’s the story. For the six years he was in charge of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy—a Democrat—maintained the blue slip tradition. That is, if home-state Republicans objected to a judge nominated by President Obama, the nomination got pulled. That was very fair-minded of him! When Chuck Grassley took over after the Republican wave of 2014, he naturally maintained the same rule since he too liked the idea of Republicans being able to block Obama’s nominees. The question was: would Grassley stick to this rule when it meant giving Democrats the ability to block Trump’s nominees?
I predicted he wouldn’t, because Republicans have always played games with the blue slip rule to favor their own cause. But then I hedged a bit last month. And so did Leahy, who noted that Grassley had promised to respect the blue slip tradition. “I trust him to keep his word,” Leahy said. That sure was stupid:
Grassley rips up ‘blue slip’ for a pair of Trump court picks
The Iowa Republican announced Thursday that he is going ahead with a confirmation hearing for a nominee to the powerful appellate courts despite the objections of a Democrat who had been blocking the nomination for months….Grassley says he has scheduled hearings for David Stras, a nominee to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Stras’ home-state senator, said earlier this year that he would not return the so-called blue slip for Stras because of his conservative ideology.
“The Democrats seriously regret that they abolished the filibuster, as I warned them they would,” Grassley said in his floor speech. “But they can’t expect to use the blue slip courtesy in its place. That’s not what the blue slip is meant for.”
For more than two decades Republicans have flipped the blue-slip rule whenever it favored their own party. If a Democrat was president, they supported it. If a Republican was president, they ditched it. Now they’ve flipped yet again. Big surprise.
No response yet from Leahy. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.
Radhika Jones is the editorial director of the books department at the New York Times. She was recently named editor of Vanity Fair and headed over to get acquainted with her new staff and the rest of the Condé Nast team:
Jones’ choice of hosiery proved most offensive, according to the editor. For the occasion, Jones had chosen a pair of tights — not in a neutral black or gray as is common in the halls of Vogue — but rather a pair covered with illustrated, cartoon foxes.
The animal caricatures may have also been too much for Vogue editor in chief and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour, who is said to have fixed one of her trademark stoic glares upon Jones’ hosiery throughout the duration of the staff meeting.
Unnerved by Jones’ choice of legwear — and Wintour’s reaction — the fashion editor proclaimed to her friends: “I’m not sure if I should include a new pair of tights in her welcome basket.” Jones is said to begin her new role on Dec. 11.
OK, I surrender. Civilization probably was a big mistake after all.
UPDATE: Ruth Graham tracks down the offending tights.
Andrew Sullivan summarizes the thesis of James Scott’s Against the Grain, an account of the emergence of the earliest states in human civilization:
The usual narrative is that this was progress, the use of intelligence to finally better our lot, leading to writing and culture and politics and what we call civilization. But that drastically misreads much of the evidence….Our health declined sharply; our average height diminished; our diet worsened….And the evidence shows that most humans at the time were understandably unimpressed. The persistence of hunter-gatherer communities throughout the early state era — and their healthier, more leisurely, and just as intelligent lives — made many suspicious of the new way of life.
….But for a few, the new order gave them extraordinary power. Control the territory and you control a lot. And so civilization begins with exploitation, hierarchy and control. The relative egalitarianism and intergenerational communities of human society for over 190,000 years slowly attenuated….The deeper you read into the book, and mull its research, the harder it is to ignore the possibility that modern civilization has, in one respect, been a gigantic, species-level mistake, a bid for power and mastery over nature and other human beings that has led to stunning achievements, but also untold misery and suffering.
In Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond makes roughly the same argument—agrarianism was worse for most people than hunting and gathering—but with a different explanation for why it happened anyway. It’s not that anyone initially thought it would give them immense power, it’s just that humans hunted big game nearly to extinction. Staple crops were pretty crappy before thousands of years of breeding turned them into the wheat and rye and millet that we have today, but they were still marginally better than starving. As time went by, hunting became harder and crops got better, and civilization began. This did eventually give a few humans extraordinary power over the rest, but that wasn’t the motivation at first.
If I had to take a lesson from this, it’s not that a crop-based diet was a huge mistake. It’s that technological progress always provides an opportunity for the powerful to become even more powerful, and that’s something we should be watchful for. Take robots, for example….
I failed to note this a couple of days ago, but it’s worth posting about:
In a rare exercise of its war-making role, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq.
….It states, in part, that U.S. military operations are authorized to fight only Al Qaeda and other allied terrorist groups in Yemen, not Shiite Muslim rebels. “To date,” the resolution says, “Congress has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to” the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force or the 2003 AUMF in Iraq.
The resolution is nonbinding, but it passed 366-30. That’s a start. On the other hand, with massive bipartisan support like that, you’d think Congress would have the guts to actually do something about it. But apparently not.
Yemen is one of President Obama’s worst legacies. The war itself is horrible, but even if you support it you should be badly disturbed at the fact that we’re fighting it with no congressional input or approval. In practice, the AUMF has become a blank check for any war involving Muslims. That needs to stop.