Max Boot has a piece in the LA Times today arguing that we should take a much tougher stand against Iran than we have so far:

In retrospect, weakness in the face of aggression is almost impossible to understand — or forgive. Why did the West do so little while the Nazis gathered strength in the 1930s? While the Soviet Union enslaved half of Europe and fomented revolution in China in the late 1940s? And, again, while Al Qaeda gathered strength in the 1990s? Those questions will forever haunt the reputations of the responsible statesmen, from Neville Chamberlain to Bill Clinton.

....Western policymakers have implicitly made the same assumption today that their predecessors made in the 1930s, 1940s and 1990s: that an immediate war, even one fought on favorable terms, is to be feared more than a looming cataclysm that is likely to occur at some indefinite point in the not-too-distant future. That was the right decision to make with Stalin's Russia; it was tragically wrongheaded with Hitler's Germany and the Taliban/Al Qaeda.

I was glad that I ended up reading the whole piece, because when Boot mentioned Stalin's takeover of Eastern Europe I thought maybe he'd lost his mind. But no: in the very last paragraph, he admits that not starting up a new war with the Soviet Union after Hitler's fall was the right thing to do. It was a terrible thing to do, but still the right thing.

But without that, Boot is left with only two examples: Neville Chamberlain, poster boy of the hawkish right for over 70 years now, and Bill Clinton. And Clinton isn't even a very good example: al-Qaeda didn't truly start to seem dangerous until 1998, and Clinton actually kept a fair amount of attention focused on them. It wasn't enough — primarily because the CIA and the Pentagon, like the American right, refused to take non-state terrorism seriously at the time — but it wasn't an example of appeasement. So at best, let's call it one and a half examples.

But here's what's interesting: when hawkish right-wing types make this argument, they always haul out poor old Neville Chamberlain. Boot throws in Bill Clinton, probably more for partisan reasons than because he truly believes Clinton was soft on al-Qaeda. But that's not exactly a complete history of softness toward potential enemies. When China turned communist in 1949, we let it happen. That was a good decision. When Vietnam did the same we eventually sent half a million troops over, and that turned out to be a bad decision. France took an aggressive stand in Algeria, and the Soviet Union did likewise in Afghanistan, and those were also pretty bad decisions in retrospect.

Sometimes aggressive action is a good idea. Sometimes containment is a good idea. Sometimes international pressure is a good idea. And sometimes just sitting back and letting events unfold for a while is a good idea. If you want to make the case for flattening Iran, you need to actually make the case for why it's worth it. We've gotten — or should have gotten — way past the point where you can just yell "Neville Chamberlain!" and expect anyone to take you seriously.

Zillionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer says his marginal propensity to consume is lower than mine:

Since 1980, the share of the nation’s income for fat cats like me in the top 0.1 percent has increased a shocking 400 percent, while the share for the bottom 50 percent of Americans has declined 33 percent. At the same time, effective tax rates on the superwealthy fell to 16.6 percent in 2007....In my case, that means that this year, I paid an 11 percent rate on an eight-figure income. 

One reason this policy is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the average American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, I go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

....I can’t buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can’t buy any new clothes or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the tens of millions of middle-class families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.

If the average American family still got the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would have an astounding $13,000 more in their pockets a year. It’s worth pausing to consider what our economy would be like today if middle-class consumers had that additional income to spend.

The rest is worth a read. We need entrepreneurs, but we need a thriving middle class even more. Washington DC's centrist punditocracy needs to have this pounded into their skulls.

(Via Jared Bernstein.)

Ask For More!

E.J. Graff asked all the men to leave the room before she linked to this reddit piece below, but I didn't. It's from an HR person at a tech company explaining why women routinely get lower salary offers than men:

The reason they don't keep up, from where I sit, is simple. Often, a woman will enter the salary negotiation phase and I'll tell them a number will be sent to them in a couple days. Usually we start around $45k for an entry level position. 50% to 60% of the women I interview simply take this offer. It's insane, I already know I can get authorization for more if you simply refuse. Inversely, almost 90% of the men I interview immediately ask for more upon getting the offer.

The next major mistake happens with how they ask for more. In general, the women I have negotiated with will say 45k is not enough and they need more, but not give a number. I will then usually give a nominal bump to 48k or 50k. Company policy wont let me bump more than 5k over the initial offer unless they specifically request more. On the other hand, men more frequently will come back with a number along the lines of 65k to 75k, and I will be forced to negotiate down from there. After this phase, almost all women will take the offer or move on to somewhere else, not knowing they could have gotten more if they asked.

At the end, most of the women I hire make between 45k and 50k, whereas the men make between 60k and 70k. Even more crazy, they ask for raises far less often, so the disparity only grows.

I apologize for sticking around, but there's a reason. I've run into this before myself, and have always told women "Just ask! The worst that can happen is that they say no." But that's not actually the case. Here's a bit of research on the subject:

Their study...found that women's reluctance [to negotiate] was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did...."What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not," Bowles said. "They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not."

So listen up, boys: there's a reason women don't negotiate as hard as men. Several of them, in fact. But one of these reasons is that men treat them shabbily when they do. So knock it off. Tell the women you love to negotiate the same as you would, and when they do, don't hold it against them. OK?

I'm so late to this story that I might as well be blogging about the evils of the tin trust or something, but there's an aspect of the whole Emma Sullivan story that I don't get. Emma Sullivan, of course, is the Kansas teenager who went on a field trip to the state capitol, listened to some remarks from Governor Sam Brownback, and tweeted:

Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.

The governor's staff went ballistic, Sullivan's school principal demanded she apologize, the governor and the principal eventually backed down, Sullivan became an internet hero for a few minutes, and Ruth Marcus was appalled. "If you were my daughter," she wrote in the Washington Post, "you’d be writing that letter apologizing to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for the smartalecky, potty-mouthed tweet you wrote after meeting with him on a school field trip."

But forget all that for a moment. Forget the overreaction from the authorities, Sullivan's unlikely stardom, or Marcus's fainting couch performance. What I'm curious about is this: does anybody seriously have a problem with a teenager saying that somebody sucks? Or blows? That doesn't even qualify as crude language these days, let alone foul language, does it? It's just everyday teenager language. Am I mistaken to think that you could say something sucks in a high school classroom and not even get a titter, let alone a smackdown from most teachers? What am I missing here?

Republicans have been making hay for months over the NLRB's decision to consider a complaint from one of Boeing's unions about their decision to build the 787 Dreamliner in a shiny, new, non-union plant in South Carolina. The union believed this decision was made in retaliation for past strikes — something that would be illegal — and they believed this because Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh practically bragged about it in public interviews. Nonetheless, Republicans were apoplectic over the union's decision to challenge a move they believed was made illegally, and they were doubly apoplectic over the gall of the NLRB in allowing the challenge to go forward. Apparently they should have simply been told to pound sand instead of being given a hearing on the merits of the case. GOP leaders in the House introduced a bill in September to strip the NLRB of its authority in cases like this, and a few weeks later Rick Perry thundered that the NLRB had "undermined our free-market system." (In front of a South Carolina audience, of course.)

Yesterday, though, Boeing took away the GOP's lollipop:

The deal announced Wednesday between Chicago-based Boeing and the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, if ratified by union members, would help pave the way for a planned jump in production by the aerospace giant. It would alleviate the threat of strikes that could derail ambitious sales plans for a retooled version of Boeing's best-selling 737 aircraft, its new 787 Dreamliner and other jets.

Under the deal, Boeing said it will build the 737 Max, the retooled version, at a union plant in Renton, Wash. Boeing previously had said that work could go to another state, sparking anger from labor leaders and intense lobbying by politicians in Washington and elsewhere. In exchange, union leaders said that if their members approve the new deal, they will drop their opposition to Boeing's use of a new, nonunion plant in South Carolina to assemble some Dreamliners.

Hey, collective bargaining! I guess it works after all.

The Kaiser Family Foundation does regular polling about the public's view of healthcare reform, and the results are always interesting. This month's results, however, are even more interesting than usual. I might write a longer post about some of this later, but for now I just want to briefly highlight a few of the questions that most caught my interest. The full poll results are here. My top five most interesting results are below.

Overall favorability toward Obamacare has gone down only slightly since last year. But look at the partisan breakdown: Republicans and Independents have stayed rock steady the entire time. The decline has been almost entirely due to waning favorability among Democrats.

Among those who don't like Obamacare, nearly half admit that their dislike has nothing much to do with the law itself. They're just mad at Obama and/or Washington DC.

Only 37% of the public feels favorably toward Obamacare, but 50% want to keep or expand it. It turns out that many of the unfavorable/don't know opinions aren't from people who dislike healthcare reform, they're from people who don't think Obamacare went far enough.

Virtually every specific aspect of Obamacare is viewed favorably by over half the public. The only exception is the individual mandate. Even Republicans, it turns out, like most of the specific provisions of the law.

A fifth of the public says Obamacare has affected them negatively. But nearly all of this is because people have been convinced that Obamacare has caused their premiums to go up and their benefits to go down. Needless to say, this is nothing more than a fantasy fueled by Fox News.

Saudi Arabia has long said that it has loads of untapped reserves and would, within a few years, be on track to increase oil production from 10 million barrels per day to as much as 15 million barrels of oil per day. But Saudi production has stayed stubbornly at 10 million barrels. Last week, the CEO of Saudi Aramco said that global production from tar sands and shale oil now looked so promising that there was no need for more oil from the Kingdom:

"Rather than supply scarcity, oil supplies remain at comfortable levels, even given rising demand from fast-growing nations like China and India....All that makes spending on aggressive energy programmes unlikely," he said, adding that abundant affordable hydrocarbon supplies challenged investment in renewable technologies. As a result, Saudi Aramco had no plans to increase its oil production capacity to 15 million barrels per day, Falih said.

Should you believe this? No, you shouldn't. Chris Nelder has a nice piece today at SmartPlanet called "Why energy journalism is so bad," and at the end he provides six pieces of advice for reading press reports about oil and energy more broadly. Here's one of them:

2. Discount the sources. If the cited authority represents the oil and gas industry, you should view their forecasts as propaganda, not truth. Particularly when the authority is from an OPEC producer. OPEC (like the IEA) is a fundamentally political organization, and everything they say in public has a political calculus behind it. For example, I read the unconventional oil optimism expressed by the Saudi official cited at the top of this piece as their way of jawboning down peak oil fears, and throwing analysts off the scent of a trail which leads to serious questions about whether Aramco can increase spare production capacity, and whether the world’s most productive oil field, Ghawar, has indeed gone into decline.

Saudi Arabia has been making excuses for years for their inability to produce more than 10 million barrels of oil per day. This is the latest, and seemingly, the most definitive. They're publicly stating — for the first time, I think — that they aren't going to keep up the pretense anymore. Their exploration and drilling program is over, and 10 million barrels is as good as it's ever going to get.

The rest of Nelder's piece is worth reading if you want to understand a bit more about how energy journalism is put together. There really is reason to think that shale oil and fracking (as well as tar sands) will boost production of fossil fuels over the next decade or two. But you should be very, very skeptical of the happy talk about massive new finds and how this means energy independence at last. This stuff is promising, but every field isn't going to pan out at the most optimistic end of the forecasts, just like conventional oil fields don't all pan out at the most optimistic end of the forecasts. Caveat emptor.

From Corey O'Brien, a Democratic commissioner in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, expressing frustration with President Obama:

Enough with the soft approach. He's got to say, "I'm in charge, and I'm going to get it done with or without Congress." People are furious. Everybody here is petrified they are going to lose their jobs tomorrow, and I mean everybody.

Republicans have to be chortling at this. It's exactly the response they've been hoping for as we head into election season. Greg Sargent spells it out:

Mr. O’Brien appears to be suggesting that this is a widespread sentiment among Pennsylvanians, and it’s worth entertaining the possiblity that this is right. In a climate of extreme fear and anger over the economy, people may not care why Obama can’t get his policies through....If the guy in charge can’t deliver it, the risk is that people may conclude he’s well intentioned, but too weak or ineffective to get it done. How Obama handles this problem is going to be a key dynamic to watch, particularly today in this key bellwether region.

When it comes to domestic policy, there's virtually nothing the president can do without congressional approval. The American public, however, rather famously seems not to understand this, and Republicans know it perfectly well. With no real knowledge of how public policy works, and without a press willing to make it clear, congressional obstruction is essentially invisible and cost-free. So Republicans have spent the past two years doing everything in their power to make sure the economy doesn't recover, and now they're planning to ride that bad economy to victory in November.

Pretty great strategy, isn't it?

I don't always understand everything Karl Smith says, but I've learned to dismiss him at my peril. Here he is yesterday:

The ECB is no longer controlling the marginal cost of funding and that indeed the cost of such funding is rising much higher than the official 1.25% rate, at least up to 2.25% and perhaps as high as 6–7%. This incredibly contractionary monetary “policy” began sometime earlier this year and is continuing to accelerate. I put policy in scare quotes because there is no policy as such there is simply contraction.

....I don’t have it all sorted out but its not clear that there is a fully functioning money market in Europe right now. Well informed opinion suggests that there is literally a shortage of know-how on the ground....It's really maddening and quite disconcerting.

And this morning, responding to an Alphaville post by Izabella about a new liquidity program from the Italian Treasury:

The marginal cost of funds — the key instrument in monetary policy — is diverging between countries and local central banks and governments are having to step in to attempt to solve the mess. Izabella is cautious in her wording and that is a good thing. However, because I was cautious last time this happened — and roundly ignored — I will be loud this time.

The Eurozone is now a single currency area in name only. Worse, the national central banks do not have the power to control monetary policy. Which means by American or British standards there is no monetary policy in Europe right now. There is regimented chaos.

And a few hours later on an ECB program to partially backstop sovereign debt in the eurozone:

Obviously I have long advocated this as the only way to stem the crisis. At this point, however, I am not sure it will work. The ECB may have a larger problem if the marginal cost of cash is diverging across countries.

....A credible cap can keep the Eurozone from flying apart, but if short yields maintain their spread that is evidence of different effective monetary policy in different countries and possibly cripplingly tight monetary policy in the periphery. I say that with the full recognition that it is not even clear what it means to say that there is different monetary policy under the same currency. What I mean is that there are differing marginal costs of funding. Some questions:

  1. Does this extend up into the commercial paper markets?
  2. How many firms have access to credit from outside their country?
  3. How many households have access to credit from outside their country?

Of these questions I would usually consider (1) the most important but the prevalence of small and medium sized business in the periphery may mean that (2) is the most important.

I won't pretend to fully understand this, and it may be less important than Karl thinks. Roughly speaking, though, he's saying that the repo market is now controlling the cost of funds in Europe, not the ECB, and that cost is higher in the periphery than in the core. It's an inversion of what happened from 2001-07, when the ECB did control monetary policy, and that single monetary policy for the entire continent was a little too tight for Germany but far too loose for the periphery. Now, though, it's just the opposite and effective monetary policy is far too tight for the periphery.

The former led to the disaster we see today. The latter is going to make that disaster far worse. The "slow run" on the European periphery appears to be finally turning into a garden variety run, and the next stop is full-scale panic.

Either that or Karl is wrong.

I see that Republicans have finally caved in on the idea of extending the existing payroll tax cut:

"In all likelihood we will agree to continue the current payroll tax relief for another year," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said after a closed-door meeting of his colleagues....Trying to get ahead of the game, McConnell proclaimed Republican support for the payroll tax cut extension and told reporters his party would soon propose its own ideas for covering the cost of the tax cut.

....Among the ways to potentially cover the cost of renewing the payroll tax cuts are: cutting federal farm subsidies, selling some government assets, reducing federal pensions and administrative savings in the Medicare healthcare program for the elderly. All these ideas have been discussed in past budget negotiations.

When it comes to a modest tax cut that mainly benefits middle-class workers, Republicans had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table, and even now insist that any extension has to be fully paid for. But when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, which are huge and primarily benefit the well-off, they fight for them passionately and bristle at the very idea of paying for them. Funny, that. It's almost as if the only tax cuts they really care about are ones for the rich.

I'm sure there's a more innocent explanation, though, and it is only my bitter liberal embrace of endless class warfare that has led me astray here.