Balkinization  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The best political magazine in America is...

Sandy Levinson

Vanity Fair, at least on the basis of the current issue (with a tatooed Johnny Depp on the cover). It has three superb articles altogether relevant to the current political debates: Michael Lewis's article on the disaster that is California (and, ultimately, the United States) because of the inablity of states to meet their pension-fund obligations; Suzanna Andrews's analysis of "The Woman Who Knew Too Much" (Elizabeth Warren) and the trashing she got from the Obama Administration--I hope that all of you will join me in diverting the contributions you otherwise would have made to rolling-in-dough Obama to Warren's campaign to unseat Scott Brown and, therefore, to instantly become the most important elected woman politician in America going into the 2016 presidential sweepstakes; and, finally, an excellent short essay by Simon Johnson and James Kwak on the modern Republican Party's rejection of Hamiltonian economics, which rested, among other things, on the principle that the United States should be perceived as scrupulously honoring all of its debts, period.

I'm not sure what it says about contemporary journalism that Vanity Fair is becoming essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary politics, but it's true.

UPDATE: For some reason, my computer wouldn't let me post a comment replying to some of the comments below. So, first, thanks for the reference to the Buckley article in The American Spectator. I'm grateful for anyone who is willing to address deficiencies in the U.S. Constitution. So kudos to The American Spectator for publishing the article!

Secondly, although I agree that Michael Lewis is perhaps too generous to former Gov. Schwarzenegger, I think it's unfair to dismiss the article. Even had S. retained the automobile license tax, that still wouldn't have provided sufficient revenue to fund California's obligations, including the costs of its grotesquely enlarged prison system. I am not blaming California's present crisis on public employees unions and calling on them alone to sacrifice for the common good. But it is foolish to deny that unfunded pension liabilities have become a national problem at the state and locallevel (read Lewis on Vajello) and have to be addressed. The lunacy of the contemporary Republican Party, in California and elsewhere, is making a rational conversation impossible inasmuch as their only "policy" appears to be the destruction of all unions and pulling the rug from under retirees and near-retirees who have engaged in highly detrimental reliance on beleving that government will keep its promises (especially given the Contract Clause of Article I, Section 10).

Comments:

"the modern Republican Party's rejection of Hamiltonian economics, which rested, among other things, on the principle that the United States should be perceived as scrupulously honoring all of its debts, period."

Only in the world Orwell foresaw, could a temporary refusal to authorize going deeper into debt, in order to fight for less deficit spending, be construed as rejecting the principle that we should honor debts. I realize it's a duly issued Democratic party talking point, but still, isn't there some point where the idiocy becomes too much?

"I'm not sure what it says about contemporary journalism that Vanity Fair is becoming essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary politics, but it's true."

It is true, and what is says is that contemporary journalism sucks bad enough to provide the negative energy needed to construct an Abercrombie warp drive.
 

In The American Spectator, Frank Buckley argues we would be better off with a parliamentary system. Maybe that will make TAS your new favorite magazine (ok, probably not).
 

The magazine's Wikipedia page lists some past notable articles and columnists who are often worth reading on current affairs.

Popular magazines that focus on what some might see as trivial or tabloid matters have over time also had a serious component. I don't think it tells us much.
 

Only in Orwell's world could Brett seriously argue that blocking payment of debts already approved did not violate the principle that we should honor debts.
 

But they didn't block payment of debts. Literally, all they did was refuse to authorize further borrowing. The claim that this is equal to blocking payment of debts requires considerable additional assumptions which are, to say the least, contested.
 

Sandy,

Vanity Fair is sometimes a great mag for its political articles, but the Michael Lewis one is just one big suck up to a failed governor. The article misses the real reasons why CA is a fiscal basket case, and that has to do with:

1. Upon his election in late 2003, the Governator cut to shreds the vehicle licensing fee-aka the car tax, a phrase created by poison talk radio here in the Golden State. That cost the state a few billion each year which continues to add to our debt;

2. For two generations, there has been a systemic failure to recognize that under Proposition 13, the property taxes burdens of corporations, businesses and the like have been substantially reduced, while homeowners are now paying more as a class than ever--which then made things worse when home values plummeted (Disneyland and Universal Studios are still valuable, though, but they don't pay squat when comparing percentages and values to a simple homeowner);

3. CA taxes are in the middle range, when property values and other economic criteria are considered, so that something like an oil extraction tax would do wonders for fiscal prudence.

4. CA has to keep building prisons to house the excessive number of people in jail for drug possession who are serving long sentences, and some for life sentences due to our draconian 3 strikes law (we're one of two states that allows 3 strikes to apply to non-violent felonies). The US Supreme Court decision on overcrowding is a testament to that 3 strikes policy enacted 20 years ago.

Lewis' article cites a couple of scare scenarios regarding pensions, but other than the one year the stock market was tanking, in 2008, Lewis never bothers to ask just what the percentage of this year's state budget is dedicated to paying pensions. If he did, he'd realize, it's next to nothing.

CA is not a fiscal train wreck because of public unions. It is a fiscal train wreck much more because of poor electoral decisions (Props 13, 8, 98, etc.) and then electing an arrogant, vain chowderhead as governor. We had hoped, as an electorate, that Arnold would just level with us and even insist on a shared sacrifice that included him and his rich friends paying a bit more. Instead, he governed like every other pol, and was worse at it than most pols.

One more stat that should interest academics and professionals: in 1981, CA spent 3% of its budget on prisons and 10% of its budget on the University of CA. In 2011, it was essentially reversed.

Does this hopefully make clear why Lewis' article is garbage?
 

I am sure that Ahnold was a terrible governor (actually, I don't know and don't care), but doesn't California already have a pretty high income tax? How much higher were you hoping it would go?
 

MLS,

The state income tax top rate is 10%. It used to be 11% under that noted Communist (sarcasm note), Republican Pete Wilson in the 1990s.

We still have more millionaires and billionaires than any other state. One point higher on the margin ain't gonna cause most of them to move to Arizona or Nevada.

Lewis is still incredibly shallow in his suck up piece on Ah-nold.
 

But they didn't block payment of debts. Literally, all they did was refuse to authorize further borrowing. The claim that this is equal to blocking payment of debts requires considerable additional assumptions which are, to say the least, contested.

I love the postmodernism of today's conservatives, under which opinions on the shape of the earth are "contestable". By the way, Brett, have you reached metaphysical certainty yet regarding Obama's birth?
 

Nope, and never will. Why would you want me to regard that as being as certain as a mathematical truth, anyway? I'm not a member of your liberal church, I'm not required to make professions of your faith.

At any rate, what did I say that you can dispute? It was a vote on raising the debt ceiling, authorizing additional debt. Literally, factually, that's what it was. Declaring a vote not to go deeper into debt to be "questioning" the debt surely does require additional assumptions, doesn't it? Assumptions which you really need to make explicit, because some of them may very well be questionable.
 

Literally, factually, it was no such thing. The debt had already been approved. The debt ceiling raise was merely to implement a previously-agreed level of funding.
 

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No, Mark, the spending had already been approved, and could be unapproved if necessary. Certainly deferred. The vote was, literally, objectively, a vote on authorizing deeper debt.

And let me point out that at any time the Democrats could have gotten it passed by agreeing to reduce the increase in spending. Why the heck is voting against an increase in debt questioning the debt, while refusing to increase the debt unless you can go deeper into debt faster is not?

The answer is easy: Because the former was what Republicans were doing, the latter what Democrats were doing, and this is just a mindless Democratic talking point.
 

But it is foolish to deny that unfunded pension liabilities have become a national problem at the state and locallevel (read Lewis on Vajello) and have to be addressed.

This is not true except in a few scattered and unimportant places. The appearance of such a problem has been created by the use of misleading and sometimes false talking points.

No, Mark, the spending had already been approved, and could be unapproved if necessary. Certainly deferred.

Any legislative body has infinitely many opportunities to review previous decisions. That was not the agreed-upon process, under which the debt ceiling raise merely implemented the previously-agreed spending decisions and was merely administrative. Nor is infinite reconsideration sensible on any other ground than pure obstructionism.
 

Mark, the "agreed upon" process is systematic fiscal insanity, designed to prevent spending from ever being reconsidered, so that nobody's pork would ever get cut. It's a system which must be destroyed.
 

Brett, you're entitled to that opinion, but the rest of us can (and should) disagree.
 

Fine, you're free to disagree with me about that. But enough people agree with me on this that I don't feel the slightest urge to play along when you insist that only your view of this is legitimate.
 

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Hello there Sandy,Happy to see your blog as it is just what I’ve looking for and excited to read all the posts. I am looking forward to another great article from you.
 

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I don't think your view of the economics is illegitimate, it's just wrong. It's the Republican tactics which I consider illegitimate and your defense thereof feeble.
 

Sandy:

The Contract Clause as a limit on government's power to rewrite the terms of employment contracts was written out of the Constitution by the progressive courts many moons ago. Are you now proposing an "Inconvenient Contract Clause" resurrection?
 

The Contracts Clause is hardly a dead letter. Efforts by states and municipalities to furlough employees for budgetary reasons are routinely enjoined by the federal courts. There is no reason to think the courts would countenance far more drastic revisions to those same employment contracts.

On a separate note, Elizabeth Warren is not a "woman politician" unless Scott Brown is a "man politician." Unless you are a scriptwriter for "Mad Men," you should eschew that archaic locution.
 

Rolling Stone has great political reporting lately too.
 

Steve:

Are those injunctions based upon the myriad of due process rights public employees enjoy or a likelihood of prevailing on a Contract Clause claim?
 

The Contracts Clause, like I said.
 

I will eagerly look forward to your incoming updates.


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