It’s Only “Politicizing” When You’re Wrong

Here’s Frank Bruni on “The Exploitation of Paris” for the New York Times:

Can’t we wait until we’ve resolved the body count? Until the identities of all of the victims have been determined and their families informed? Until the sirens stop wailing? Until the blood is dry?

I’d like not to be told, fewer than 18 hours after the shots rang out, how they demonstrate that Americans must crack down on illegal immigration to our own country. I read that and was galled, and not because of my feelings about immigration, but because of my feelings about the automatic, indiscriminate politicization of tragedy.

It’s such a disrespectful impulse.

And it’s such an ugly one.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Times newsroom when the assignments are handed out after such a tragedy. How do they decide who will write the articles denouncing politicization and who will write the politicized articles?

It wasn’t so long ago that I read Nick Kristof’s “A New Way to Tackle Gun Deaths,” which details what Mr. Kristof calls “modest steps to reduce the carnage that leaves America resembling a battlefield” and which was published two days after the Umpqua Community College shooting.

Of course, both Mr. Bruni and Mr. Kristof write for the Opinion section of the Times. They haven’t been assigned viewpoints, and they’re entitled to have different ideas about the appropriate response to shootings. But it’s strange that Mr. Kristof and other perennial gun control advocates (for example, the president, who explicitly defended the practice of “politicization” immediately after Umpqua) escape Mr. Bruni’s criticism here.

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Combating Muslim Extremism Requires Nuanced Understanding

I’m frustrated today because in the wake of Paris there seems to be, once again, a post-attack popular backlash against thinking. In 2003, The Decider convinced us that The Gut was our best analytical tool. Today hordes of people blinded by anger and sorrow are taking to social media to denounce the sin of thinking (the timidity!) in the face of Western Civilization’s Greatest Threat.

I posted the following video clip on Facebook with the caption:

Always a breath of fresh air listening to someone who’s capable of entertaining nuanced thought (I’m not talking about Don Lemon). Our political discourse is So. Stupid.


A friend of mine, whose thinking is usually quite clear, posted the following response:

I’m afraid people like Reza are so enlightened and progressive that we are going to continue to fail to solve the problem that keeps pounding us in the face. The kind of Chomsky-ish apologetic way of thinking is not going to get rid of groups like ISIS, is not going to make the world a better place for women, is not going to stop suicide bombings… We have to be honest with ourselves about what the problem is if we are going to solve it. The problem is that there is large percentage of the Muslim community that believes ideas such as drawing cartoons of the prophet should be met with a death sentence, and believes that women should be punished for leaving their homes without proper clothing. It’s incredibly boring to hear people regurgitate over and over again that this isn’t a Muslim problem but an extremist one. The “extremists” causing all the trouble in the world are arguably the most devout believers on the planet. What does it say about a religion when we seek to point out all the good members of it because they’re moderates, that they don’t really take their belief seriously, that they don’t really believe everything written on the pages? It’s people like Reza that think it’s fair to attack the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists for being offensive and that if anything we should all blame ourselves for western imperialism. Specific beliefs have specific consequences and right now we are all in considerable danger because there’s a lot of people that believe very specific things. The only way forward is to try and figure out a way to make Islam as a religion compatible with the modern world, the way Christianity, Catholicism, and others are. They all had their dark times in the past, sure, but there’s a reason you don’t worry on a daily basis of a Catholic is going to cut your throat. They reformed, and Islam has to as well. But saying that none of this is representative of Islam, that these assholes are just extremists and that we are all guilty of making them hurt us is masochistic bullshit that I’m afraid is going to get us nowhere.

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Time To Give Up On Good Macro Policy

A majority of the knuckleheads elected to run our country are opposed to the traditional use of macroeconomic policy to correct fluctuations of the economy. The size of the national debt seems to be the only measure simple enough for them to understand. Here’s a novel idea: Let’s sacrifice the economy at the altar of reducing the debt and hope that, when the smoke clears, economics is allowed to be the primary driver of economic policy again.

I had the privilege of attending the Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy conference at the International Monetary Fund in April. Terrific fun. But while I was only able to see this month’s Annual Research Conference panels online, I could still hear the despair in the voices of the last session’s guests all the way over here in Bangkok.

Why the long, bearded faces? As Adam Posen says, “You can’t defeat fiscal policy with monetary policy.” He’s explaining why Japanese monetary measures have been ineffective in the past two decades. Unfortunately, he happens to mention later in his comments that, with traditional fiscal policy off the table in the United States for political reasons, American monetary policy (which deals partly in expectations) is also hobbled by the public’s understanding of what is and isn’t on the table. “It may not be economically rationally justified to worry about the confidence fairies or about the austerity nutters, but they’re out there.” Posen’s eventual recommendation is basically to try to push unconventional monetary policy as far as it will go…because it probably doesn’t do much, anyway. Ouch.

Paul Krugman follows and echoes the idea that both fiscal and monetary measures face crippling political obstruction. “Fiscal policy is ruled out…the sad discovery is it turns out that adequate monetary policy also seems to be ruled out. And so what is the answer? I have no idea.” He’s almost crying.

These guys should stop beating their heads against the wall. Throw in the towel. Applying realpolitikal strategy to macroeconomic policy suggests that liberal (or Keynesian, or interventionist, or at this point any sort of traditional) macroeconomists should join the chorus of voices calling for a reduction in the national debt.

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