Opinion

The Great Debate

Entitlement reform would indicate maturity

By Russ Roberts
The opinions expressed are his own.

Reuters invited leading economists and writers to reply to Larry Summers’ op-ed on his reaction to the debt ceiling deal. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Roberts’ reply.  Laura Tyson, James HamiltonDonald BoudreauxRobert Frank, Benn Steil and James Pethokoukis as well.

Summers begins with a refreshing instance of honesty about the effect of the debt deal:

Despite claims of spending reductions in the $1 trillion range, the actual agreements reached so far likely will have little impact on actual spending over the next decade.

It is hard to reconcile this likely truth with the accusations coming from the left that Obama has caved and the Republicans are “terrorists” for “slashing government spending” but such is the nature of political life these days. Summers is also right about the importance of the baseline. When is a cut not a cut? When it’s a reduction from an artificially high baseline. There is very little austerity in the debt deal.

Summers next claim is harder to swallow:

The deal confirms the very low levels of spending already negotiated for 2011 and 2012, and caps 2013 spending about where most would have expected this Congress to end up.

Regretting raising the debt-ceiling

By Donald Boudreaux
The opinions expressed are his own.

Reuters invited leading economists and writers to reply to Larry Summers’ op-ed on his reaction to the debt ceiling deal. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Donald Boudreaux’s reply. Here are responses from Laura Tyson, James Hamilton, Robert Frank, Russ Roberts, Benn Steil and James Pethokoukis as well.

Larry Summers’ cynicism about the new debt deal is justified. What, indeed, is the baseline from which $1.5 trillion is to be subtracted?

That there’s no clear answer to this question — and that there’s no serious effort to avoid the coming explosion of entitlement spending — drives home the truth that this deal really is nothing more than, as The Economist describes it, “a mishmash of expedient stop gaps and promises.”

Washington’s next challenge

By James Pethokoukis
The opinions expressed are his own.

Reuters invited leading economists to reply to Larry Summers’ ope-d on his reaction to the debt ceiling deal. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Reuters Breakingviews columnist James Pethokoukis’ reply. Here are responses from Laura Tyson, James Hamilton, Robert Frank, Russ Roberts, Benn Steil and Donald Boudreaux as well.

Like Larry Summers, I have a “multifaceted reaction” to Washington’s debt ceiling and budget deal. In fact, I have the exact same multifaceted reaction, except driven by completely different rationales.

1. Like Summers, I feel relief — but not because the agreement averted default and avoided harsh austerity. While the package doesn’t fundamentally change America’s fatal fiscal trajectory, it keeps the legislative momentum headed in the right direction with a focus on reducing debt via spending cuts rather than tax increases.

We need a new Pakistan-U.S. relationship

By Farhana Qazi
The opinions expressed are her own.

For the United States, Bin Laden is history. He is an after-thought. And it is almost certain that the Central Intelligence Agency has moved onto its next target. But for Pakistan, the death of the terrorist kingpin is not over as U.S policy makers debate Islamabad’s role in the war on terrorism.

Since the news of Bin Laden’s death, Islamabad’s elites are being attacked and accused of harboring a famed terrorist leader. In his latest piece for The Daily Beast, Salman Rushdie boldly stated that Pakistan should be declared a terrorist state for playing a “deadly game” with America unless Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, or the ISI, can offer “satisfactory answers.” Rushdie is right to demand an answer but wrong to insist that Pakistan be isolated for protecting proxies and pariahs.

Less than a week after Bin Laden’s death, there are important details that have emerged that need to be answered. When did Bin Laden arrive in Abbottabad? Why did the local owner of the compound rent the home to an individual in Waziristan? Why did a rival to the once-deadly-terrorist leader of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Masud live in the same compound? And why was there indication that the compound was being expanded? What we have are details of a deadly mystery. What we do not have is any indication that Pakistan’s senior leadership had knowledge that al Qaeda’s elite moved to and from Abbottabad.

Japan shows another side of the press

JAPAN-QUAKE/LEAKAGE

By Anya Schiffrin
The opinions expressed are her own.

Sitting in Japan in the days after the Friday earthquake and watching the official broadcaster NHK cover the disaster has been an unusual experience. There has been the typical blanket television coverage of this tragedy but the flavor of the reporting is different than it would be in the U.S. “Restrained” is how one friend described it. Over and over we’ve seen the same awful footage of the enormous dirty wave sweeping up cars and houses as it inches slowly along the land.

There are the inevitable interviews with displaced people and experts in their offices. But there are very few graphics or charts, no catchy logos and certainly no dead or injured on the screen. Just as U.S. presidents take off their ties when they visit the troops, Japanese officials appearing on television wear the blue uniforms of someone doing physical labor but with their logo of their ministry or office sewn on their pocket. “It’s theatre” a Japanese friend said dismissively as we watched television last night. But the purposefulness and determination of the government officials were evident — and even my skeptical friend agreed that this commitment would be well-received by the electorate.

At Columbia University we recently began a study with Professor Jairo Lugo in the UK comparing the New York Times and UK Guardian’s coverage of natural disasters. One thing that was immediately clear is how quickly newspaper coverage of natural disasters becomes coverage of the state. This is so even in the US where there is long standing skepticism about the state, and — these days — a widespread view that the government should play a limited role.

Digital media and the Arab spring

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By Philip N. Howard, author of “The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam,” and director of the Project on Information Technology and Political Islam at the University of Washington. The opinions expressed are his own.

President Obama identified technology as one of the key variables that enabled and encouraged average Egyptians to protest. Digital media didn’t oust Mubarak, but it did provide the medium by which soulful calls for freedom have cascaded across North Africa and the Middle East. It is difficult to know when the Arab Spring will end, but we can already say something about the political casualties, long-term regional consequences and the modern recipe for democratization.

It all started with a desperate Tunisian shopkeeper who set himself on fire, which activated a transnational network of citizens exhausted by authoritarian rule. Within weeks, digitally-enabled protesters in Tunisia tossed out their dictator. It was social media that spread both the discontent and inspiring stories of success from Tunisia across North Africa and into the Middle East.

Rumsfeld’s biggest unknown

USA-AFGHAN/TILLMANBy Joshua Spivak
The opinions expressed are his own.

The knives are out in Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir, Known and Unknown. In defense of his long public service career and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the man who was both the youngest and oldest Defense Secretary clearly believes that a good offense is the best strategy.

While the book is receiving press for the intra-cabinet fights and for Rumsfeld cherry-picking his facts, it ends up being a useful and needed work: In eviscerating fellow members of President George W. Bush’s national security team, Rumsfeld raises questions about how the most critical parts of the executive branch operate.

With the relentlessly negative portrayals of political and military figures and constant complaints about the press and the legislature, it is not obvious that Rumsfeld is looking to make a larger point other than defending his tenure and slashing at adversaries. And slash he does — among the many, many bold-faced names who receive unwelcome shout-outs are long-time Rumsfeld foe George H.W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Al Gore (he even takes an early whack at Gore’s father), Jerry Bremer, Eric Shinseki, and, in a golden oldies moment, Nixon’s counsel John Ehrlichman. His assessment of Ehrlichman may be the best line in the book, noting,“Certainty without power can be interesting, and even amusing. Certainty with power can be dangerous.”

Why economists are part of the problem

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Charles Ferguson is the director of Inside Job, a documentary about the financial crisis. The opinions expressed are his own.

Both Glenn Hubbard and Laura Tyson (pictured above, left to right) have played major roles in American economic policy, and both also, unfortunately, exemplify the disturbing, opaque conflicts of interest that pervade the economics discipline.

Over the last thirty years, academic economics has been penetrated by special interests, particularly financial services, in the same way that America’s political and regulatory systems have been compromised by campaign contributions and the revolving door.  In fact, the “revolving door” is now a triangular trip between industry, government, and academia.

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