The Vampire Squid Pays Really Well

Felix Salmon has a good post on the crazy profits of Goldman Sachs, Vampire Squid. Here’s a juicy bit:

Add it all up, and the various stock-related grants given in one month of 2008 (we’re not including annual bonuses here) were worth $1.9 billion at the time, and are worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.6 billion now.

Remember that December 2008, when Goldman made these grants, was the worst month in the company’s history…


Incomplete Thoughts on Liberaltarianity

Tyler Cowen is interested in congress actually doing something about the doc fix. He asks:

Why don’t I hear more about this issue?

Because it’s not popular to want to lower doctor payments and what’s not popular doesn’t (ususally) get political backing. It’s much easier to continue to kick the can down the road. And he continues:

I would consider joining a liberaltarian alliance to lower the doc fix.  Is there one to be had?

There’s a tension I frequently feel about that term, liberaltarian. It seems to me that most of the time it means libertarians coming along side liberalism. Libertarianism basically advocates less governmental involvement on all fronts. It has a purity problem. Liberalism does not; it advocates, mas o menos, egalitarianism. And whatever happens to promote that, be it regulation or free-marketish approaches, liberalism can get on board. So, gay rights and drug legalization are liberal causes because both would contribute to more equality (the former is, really -no-pun-intended, more straightforward and hopefully is understandable sans documentation/citation). Libertarians like those things for reasons more like, Preserve individual freedoms from government overreach! Great, they agree for different reasons. But I would point out that advocating government monopsony is not liberaltarian, it’s liberal. Advocating regulation of health care and banks are liberal causes. Matthew Yglesias gives a nice little summary of how this works with health care:

…the only reason most people are insured today has to do with the non-market elements of the system. First, the tax code provides an enormous subsidy for employer-provided health insurance that ends up putting the majority of employed Americans into large risk pools at the expense of everyone who doesn’t work full-time for a big company. Second, Medicare mops up the largest pool of non-employed people by giving single-payer health care to everyone over 65. Third, a regulation bans discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions as long as they maintain “continuity of coverage” as they shift from one employer to another. Fourth, COBRA allows people to maintain continuity of coverage even if they experience transient spells of unemployment. Fifth, Medicaid and SCHIP give coverage to many classes of poor people who’d otherwise be unable to afford it.

An actual free market approach to health care would require unraveling all of this and subjecting everyone to a world in which you can’t get coverage if you’re sick. Which is exactly how you would expect a free market to work.

So, if libertarianish people want to back regulating health care, they should just say that they side with the liberals on that issue. There’s no sense in saying that it’s somehow a libertarian concern. It ain’t.

Sophists, Amendments, and the Constitution

Andrew Sullivan brings up an interesting topic:

Victor Davis Hanson is railing against [sophists]:

In classical Athens, public life became dominated by clever and smart-sounding sophists. These mellifluous “really wise guys” made money and gained influence by their rhetorical boasts to “prove” the most amazing “thinkery” that belied common sense. We are living in a new age of sophism — but without a modern equivalent of Socrates to remind the public just how silly our highly credentialed and privileged new rhetoricians can often sound.

So true. You’ve got Andy McCarthy telling us that president Obama is allied with radical Islamists in a Grand Jihad against America, Stanley Kurtz insisting that he was a Marxist revolutionary in college, and Dinesh D’Souza claiming he is motivated by the Kenyan anti-colonialism of a bygone era… Glenn Beck twists history in ways so conspiritorial he can’t even maintain his own consistency, and earns tens of millions peddling his untruths.

Of course, Hanson isn’t talking about those sophists. Instead he takes am at targets including climate science, the stimulus, and Ezra Klein:

There is also a new generation of young, sophistic bloggers who offer their wisdom from the New York-Washington corridor. They are usually graduates of America’s elite colleges and navigate in an upscale urban landscape. One, the Washington Post’s 26-year-old Ezra Klein, recently scoffed to his readers that a bothersome U.S. Constitution was “100 years old” and had “no binding power on anything.”

Two points: One, of the “sophists” Andrew points out, Glenn Beck maybe comes as close as it gets. Beck confesses that he “could give a flying crap about the political process.” He works for “an entertainment company.” But I think it’s worse than that. He is playing both sides and believes both sides of his persona. Two, the point about Ezra Klein. As Andrew goes on to point out, Hanson is wrong on the merits of what Klein was doing. But there’s something that I’d like to say about the Constitution. The Constitution as a groovy thing, something we should be very proud of–but it has been amended twenty-seven times. To amend something is to make it better. That’s the definition of amending. So, clearly the Constitution wasn’t perfect when it was adopted. No, we’re not moving in some pseudo-Hegelian Progress of History toward perfection, but we have as a country changed the Constitution twenty-seven times to make it better. In other words, history is liberal: we can make things better. That’s not to say, throw all caution to the wind and make whimsical changes to the law of the land, but it is to say that we have, can, and should try to make things better. We should be wary of unintended and unforeseen consequences, but we should still try to make things better. To put it differently, the status quo came from a biased position–it is not bias free. Let’s try to take stock of the situation, bring in lots of information, propose ways forward, and go with what seems better.

Krugman and Goldline

Krugman being funded by Goldline adverts. Oh, the irony.

Banks Are for Profit

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. You are allowed to dislike it, but it’s the way things are and have been for a long time. Banks want to make money (and not just in the sense of money creation). So, when you join a bank, ask yourself, “Am I getting my money’s worth in this transaction?”

Ideology vs. Ideology

Yglesias writes:

I largely agree with Steve Randy Waldman about the value of and need for “ideological work.”

For my part, I’m continually baffled by the degree to which thought-leaders and politicians on the center-left think it’s credible and/or political useful to present our agenda as wholly un-ideological and “pragmatic,” somehow emerging magically through empirical study. Quine’s Word & Object isn’t about politics at all but it’s full of valuable insights. All efforts to understand the world meld empirical and theoretical efforts, and all efforts to understand the world in a way that’s politically relevant are thus necessarily ideological.

Now, I understand exactly what he’s saying, but it seems to me like there’s a large difference in degree if not in kind: the ideology that says, “Climate change is a massive hoax,”  and that which says, “The structure of society should help the poor,” are different in important ways. Indeed, “all efforts to understand the world meld empirical and theoretical efforts,” but there is a difference between completely denying empirical data and trying to incorporate it into one’s theoretical model. And another, simpler point about his thesis: it basically makes the word “ideological” superfluous–if we’re going to say that ideology equals political position, then the word seems to have lost some of its sheen.

Blogging and Writing

(via The Daily Dish):

In his final post as a guest blogger, Michael Chabon admits he didn’t get any writing done on his novel while pinch hitting for TNC, and offers parting reflections on the format:

“Novelist time is reptile time; novelists tend to be ruminant and brooding, nursers of ancient grievances, second-guessers, Tuesday afternoon quarterbacks, retrospectators, endlessly, like slumping hitters, studying the film of their old whiffs …  Blogging, I think, is largely about seizing opportunities, about pouncing, about grabbing hold of hours, events, days and nights as they are happening, sizing them up and putting them into play with language, like a juggler catching and working into his flow whatever the audience has in its pockets.”

This is true and is largely why it has taken me so long to start blogging. I spent many years not as novelist or blogger, but as quasi-academic, working very hard to be as precise as possible. I won’t be as precise as possible in this space, but I’ll still try to be better than average. Writing well is very hard work. We should respect effortful attempts and, particularly with blogging, have some grace with the mis-hits. Unless they are in bad faith.

(So, re: bad faith, I think it’s a nice formal structure that might not seem obviously relevant to the topic, but actually can be a quite helpful category.)