Felix Salmon directs us today to the Kauffman Foundation's fourth-quarter survey of prominent economics bloggers. Asked to assess the U.S. economy in one word, here's how they responded:

Take it for what it's worth, but econbloggers seem to be a pretty gloomy lot. The Kauffman group also leans right a bit, which makes this chart interesting too:

They're very bullish on the world economy, but they also think inflation will be higher, poverty will be higher, interest rates will be higher, and the budget deficit will be higher. Even more interestingly, they unanimously think that tax rates on the rich will go up. That can't be due to economic fundamentals, so presumably it means they have (a) a very high regard for the Democratic Party's ability to hold firm on allowing the Bush tax cuts on the rich to expire next year, and (b) a very low regard for the likelihood that a Republican will become president in 2012 and put them right back in place. I wonder why?

Earlier this year I wrote about "Defunding 2.0," a modern trio of Republican efforts to defund the left and impede people from voting for Democrats. By far the most important part of this effort is voter ID laws designed to make it harder for left-leaning constituencies (students, minorities, the poor) to vote. We're finally starting to see the mainstream media pay some attention to this lately, and today David Savage puts it front and center in the LA Times. His poster child is a recently passed law in Florida:

Early voting was reduced from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before election day was eliminated. College students face new hurdles if they want to vote away from home. And those who register new voters face the threat of fines for procedural errors, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration drives and accuse the Legislature of "reverting to Jim Crow-like tactics."

What is happening in Florida is part of a national trend, as election law has become a fierce partisan battleground. In states where Republicans have taken majority control, they have tightened rules for registering new voters, reduced the time for casting ballots and required voters to show photo identification at the polls. The new restrictions were usually adopted on party-line votes and signed by Republican governors.

....Republican lawmakers say Democrats and minority groups are overreacting. "We're going to have a very tight election here next year, and we need to protect the integrity of the election," said Rep. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala. "When we looked around, we saw a need for some tightening."

I think we all know exactly what "integrity of the election" means to Rep. Baxley. After all, Florida has only suffered from two types of serious voter fraud in the past decade. The first is absentee ballot fraud, which Florida's bill does nothing to address because absentee voters tend to be upscale and Republican. The second is widespread database errors in 2000 that prevented people from voting. The Florida bill also does nothing about that, because those problems mainly affected Democratic-leaning voters.

So: Florida's bill addresses a problem that's essentially nonexistent, and does so in a way that will likely suppress left-leaning votes. "It could easily decide the outcome," says election law expert Rick Hasen. Conversely, it does nothing to tighten up on areas that actually have caused problems in the past, but that mostly favored right-leaning candidates.

I report, you decide. What do you think the real purpose of Florida's shiny new voter ID law is?

Karl Smith, a man who obviously has too much time on his hands, performs a massive core dump today of stuff he's been thinking about but hasn't had time to blog seriously about. One of them is the question of whether children should be allowed to vote:

Though this seems like a silly issue to a lot of people it's part and parcel of the whole: “are there a such thing as human rights” question.

People often appeal to the immature nature of children. But clearly there are mature children and immature adults. If you draw the dividing line at age then this is a line of convenience.

You can count me among the vast throng that thinks, in general, that this is a silly question. Kids can't vote for the same reason they can't do lots of things: because millions of years of human history informs us that children aren't capable of looking out for themselves. They need adult supervision. We make the same judgment toward others who are deemed unable to look after themselves — the mentally ill, elderly people suffering from dementia, etc. — so this is hardly something unique to children.

Still, at least Karl poses this question in a more interesting way. Using age as a dividing line for adulthood is indeed clean and simple, and for that reason it's convenient. But should kids be able to "test out" of childhood if they want? Maybe allow anyone over the age of 12 to apply for full citizenship and get it if they — what? Pass a test? Demonstrate maturity in some way? Rescue a dog from a burning house? And what about parents? Should they retain responsibility for kids who have been declared adults? Or could they kick their 14-year-old out of the house if they felt like it?

Or is this solely a voting question? That hardly seems worth the trouble, frankly. Maybe the whole 18-year-old thing really is convenient enough that we should just keep it.

Via Greg Sargent, here is Obama messaging guru David Axelrod on CNN yesterday talking about Republican unwillingness to do anything that might help the economy:

I think this is something — something different going on right now. When you have the leader — the Republican leader of the Senate say, our number one goal — in the midst of this economy, our number one goal is to defeat the president, and they’re acting like it.

They don’t want to cooperate. They don’t want to help. Even on measures to help the economy that they traditionally have supported before, like a payroll tax cut, like infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and bridges and surface transport. These — so you have to ask a question, are they willing to tear down the economy in order to tear down the president or are they going to cooperate?

So far, various surrogates and Democratic members of Congress have said things like this, but neither Obama nor anyone close to him has gone there. But maybe he should. Here are the famously moderate Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann:

It was perfectly understandable for Obama to try to deliver on his promise of a post-partisan Washington, even if he was naïve at best, disingenuous at worst. But by doing so he paid a tremendous political price....What sense does it make for Obama embrace an agenda without any support on the other side of the aisle, and make nice to a party whose sole objective is to deny him reelection? One should note the reaction, documented by Politico, of a key Republican Senate leadership staffer to Obama’s endorsement of the Gang of Six deficit-reduction framework in July—if Obama is for it, we have to be against it.

Moreover, if there is any hope of achieving bipartisan policy success, it will come from Republicans believing that blocking the president’s initiatives or offers will cause them political harm. Mitch McConnell admitted as much when he acceded to a deal on the debt limit—not because it would avert economic chaos, not because a conciliatory president offered it to him, but because, in his own words, the failure to do so would damage “the Republican brand.” In other words, Obama’s new approach of turning up the heat—by calling out Republicans for their obstruction and their opposition even to ideas they have previously embraced, like a continuing payroll tax cut—actually has more chance of achieving the policy outcomes Brooks wants than his conciliatory approach.

When surrogates and politicos trade charges, it's just grist for he-said-she-said gossip journalism. It doesn't get serious until and unless the president says it. Then it suddenly becomes the topic du jour: the subject of 24/7 cable net coverage, lengthy "analysis" pieces trying to determine if Republicans really do want to wreck the economy, and endless ink on the op-ed page. The result, of course, is that Republicans will have to spend several weeks denying that they want to tank the economy.

I think that would be fun. I would be very happy to see Republicans forced to spend the next several weeks denying that. They're already feeling the heat on this. Maybe it's time for Obama to bring them into the kitchen.

Michael O'Hare polled one of his undergraduate policy design classes at Berkeley to see what they thought about the future of Social Security. The results:

  • 16%: Social Security is in very serious financial trouble and probably won’t be there for my parents
  • 66%:  Social Security is in financial trouble and probably won’t be there for me
  • 16%: Social Security is basically OK and just needs some minor adjustments.

From this we can conclude a couple of things: (a) there are probably 18 students in Mike's class, and (b) the conservative campaign to convince everyone that Social Security is doomed has been wildly successful, even among extremely bright kids who are actively interested in policy issues.

The success of this propaganda campaign is especially impressive because the truth of option 3 (Social Security only needs minor tweaks) is hardly arguable if you have even the barest understanding of Social Security's finances. I struggle constantly trying to figure out a way to convince people of this in a simple way, so here's another crack at it:

If we gradually raise the payroll tax from 6.2% to 7.2% and gradually raise the earnings cap from $100,000 to $250,0001 between 2030 and 2050, Social Security will be solvent forever.

That's it. How much simpler can it be? Certainly this is as easy to understand as raising the retirement age to 67 or changing the COLA formula or whatnot. I don't have any objection to considering some of that other stuff if and when we ever get around to cutting a deal on Social Security, but we don't have to if we don't want to. If you want a simple slogan for the masses, "1 point and 150 grand" does the job just fine. Add one point to Social Security taxes and increase the earnings cap by $150,000 over the course of 20 years. Done.

1Indexed for inflation, of course.

From my colleague Tim Murphy, commenting on a speech Rick Perry gave in New Hampshire on Friday:

Have you ever seen anyone so happy to receive a jug of maple syrup?

That comes toward the end, and Tim is right. Perry looks as if this is the first time in his life he's encountered the stuff. The rest of Perry's delivery is — um, a bit quirky too. Like this:

This is such a cool state. I mean, come on, "Live free or die"? You gotta love that, right? I come from a state where they had this little place called the Alamo, and they declared "Victory or death." You know, we're kinda into those slogans, man, it's like "Live free or die," "Victory or death," bring it!

Okey dokey. I guess that's what it takes when the local polls have you tied for sixth with Michele Bachmann at 3.3%.

Guess what? Last week's resolution of the eurozone crisis is turning out to be about as successful as all the past resolutions were:

Initial relief over Europe's latest attempt to end its debt crisis faded on Friday as investors fretted about the plan's lack of detail and grew more skeptical about Italy's turnaround effort....On Friday, attention focused on Italy. The nation is saddled with €1.9 trillion in debt, with more than €200 billion of it coming due next year. Some investors worry that unless Italy lowers its borrowing costs, it could become the center of a renewed flare-up in the crisis. In Friday's bond auction, Italy was forced to pay more than 6% interest on its new 10-year debt, approaching levels that some analysts said the country can't afford for long.

...."The truth of the matter is that the issues are not entirely resolved," said Steven Walsh, chief investment officer at bond manager Western Asset Management, which oversees $433 billion...."The firepower of this fund…is not enough to calm fears," said Silvio Peruzzo, an economist at RBS Global Banking & Markets in London.

Nobody should be surprised that this is such a hard problem, of course. Fundamentally, someone is going to lose absolutely gigantic sums of money, and figuring out who that someone is going to be was always going to be a fraught affair. As near as I can tell, though, each rescue effort seems to advance asymptotically toward honesty about the scale of the losses, realism about the need to allocate those losses among the non-broke members of the EU, and acceptance among the broke members that they're going to be required to suffer fairly harshly in return for being bailed out. We obviously haven't gotten to the really truly final resolution yet — that won't happen until the European public truly accepts that they're screwed and they can't do much about it — but I suspect that last week's deal is one more step along the path of recognizing the grim reality of the situation.

Either that or Europe is going to implode. In the end, though, I don't think either the ECB or Angela Merkel will allow that to happen.

On the left, Domino really is staring at the giant rose this week. It's not just a trick of perspective. On the right, Inkblot is reacting warily as Domino explores a gigantic bag that had been full of electronic goodness just a few moments before.

Why the early catblogging this week? Because Southern California Edison has kindly informed us that electric power in our neighborhood will once again be out for the day. So no blogging for me. This post was prescheduled Thursday night, and my computer has been safely shut down for the duration. Have a good weekend, all.

From Jed Rakoff, the federal judge overseeing the SEC fraud settlement against Citigroup:

How can a securities fraud of this nature and magnitude be the result simply of negligence?

Good question! This is #9 of nine questions that Rakoff has about the settlement, in which Citigroup has been fined an arbitrary amount, with no real explanation for how the amount was calculated, no real explanation of just what the fraud entailed, and no admission by Citigroup of any culpability. I suspect that Rakoff isn't going to get any satisfactory answers to his questions, but good for him for asking.

Good news from the Wall Street Journal:

A month after Bank of America got pummeled by consumers and politicians for introducing plans for new debit-card fees, most other big U.S. banks are steering clear of imposing similar charges.

Following eight months of consumer testing, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has decided that it won't charge customers who use their debit cards to make purchases....J.P. Morgan joins U.S. Bancorp, Citigroup Inc., PNC Financial Services Group Inc., KeyCorp and other large banks that have said in recent days that they won't impose monthly fees on debit cards. None of those banks said they made their decisions because of the outcry over Bank of America's fees.

Well, of course they didn't say it. But I think we can all take a pretty good guess that Bank of America's PR debacle had something to do with it.

BofA imposed its monthly debit card charge to make up for lower interchange fees mandated by Dodd-Frank, and that's why other banks have been considering it too. But as far as I'm concerned, banks could have avoided this mess completely simply by allowing merchants to pass along interchange fees to their customers if they wanted to. That is, allow merchants to post a sign saying "2% surcharge on all debit card purchases" and see what happens. If merchants try it, but competition eventually forces them all to stop, that's a convincing signal that interchange fees are a reasonable cost of business for having a reliable, risk-free payment system. If not, then not. But banks resolutely refused to allow this, which suggests very strongly that they knew perfectly well their fees were out of line and would get passed along to consumers in a free market. And having those fees passed along would have caused consumers to use their cards a lot less. So the last thing they wanted was transparent fees subject to normal market forces.

I don't know how this is all going to turn out. It's possible, of course, that banks will eventually figure out some other hidden or semi-hidden fee structure to replace the interchange fees. Obviously they're going to try to make up their lost interchange fee revenue somewhere. But my hope is that as long as they're forced to make it up with transparent fees of some kind, consumers will have a chance to react normally to those charges and market forces will then have a chance to exert some discipline on the banks — as they're doing now with the monthly debit card fee. This will keep fees as low as possible and consumers will benefit. We'll see.