The Corner

The one and only.

The Latest Tweets from Team NRO . . .

Our Erratic Economy


If you’ve followed the recent quarter-by-quarter performance of the American economy, the adjective that comes to mind is “erratic.” Good quarter, weak quarter, very good quarter, crap quarter, etc. Today, we learned that growth in the fourth quarter of 2014 was nearly halved from the third-quarter growth rate, down to 2.6 percent.

Reuters, rooting around for some good news, writes: “Even with the moderation in the fourth quarter, growth remained above the 2.5 percent pace, which is considered to be the economy’s potential.” If you are wondering what in hell “2.5 percent growth is considered to be the economy’s potential” means, you are not alone. The Reuters piece also reports that consumer spending remains robust and repeats the myth that consumer spending represents “more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.” It does not. Or rather, it does if you count as “consumer spending” a lot of things that are not consumer spending, e.g. Medicaid, Medicare, nonprofit enterprises, etc. Wishing that the news were good does not make it good.

It isn’t good. It isn’t terrible. It’s erratic. And erratic . . . isn’t good.

A Song in Your Heart (or Campaign)


In today’s Impromptus, I write a little about politics and music — together, I mean. Music in politics. Let me show you what I mean:

My entire life, I have seen this play out: Some conservative politician uses a pop song at some event. The pop singer or group is on the left, of course. And said singer or group objects, loudly. This is so tiresome. You see this story every couple of years or so.

The latest iteration involved Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin. At an Iowa conclave, he walked out to a song from a Celtic punk band. (For details, go here.) The band said, “Please stop using our music in any way. We literally hate you!!!” Not even two exclamation points would do: It had to be three.

I thought of David Cameron, the British prime minister, who handled a similar situation brilliantly. Evidently, he liked a particular band. And the band said the PM was not allowed to like it. One of the guys said, “I forbid you to like it.”

So, a Labour MP brought this up during Prime Minister’s Questions. She taunted Cameron about the band and its reaction to him. The PM responded with cool, nonchalance, and wit — as you can see here.

After I wrote this column, I thought of an essay I wrote eons ago, for NR. And, mirabile dictu (as WFB would say), it was on the Internet. There is a slightly funky, hard-to-read version on the Vanderbilt University site. I wrote this piece in 2000, after the political conventions. It is called “American Sounds” (a phrase borrowed from Reagan).

Have just three morsels, about men who became president:

Gerald Ford provides an interesting case (really). For him, they have always played “Hail to the Victors,” the University of Michigan fight song. Problem is, the song features the word “hail,” sung over and over, always accompanied by the thrusting out of an arm. When a stadium, or an arena, gets rockin’, it looks unnervingly like the rally at Nuremberg.

For Jimmy Carter, they often played “Marching Through Georgia,” until the candidate complained that this was, after all, a northern song, celebrating the South’s — particularly Georgia’s — most ignominious hour.

When Ronald Reagan entered a hall, they usually used “California, Here I Come,” which was a little awkward, because — at least in 1976, 1980, and 1984 — he was trying to get to, or return to, Washington, D.C., not wanting to be sent “right back where I started from.”

There may well be ten candidates on the Republican side alone this time ’round. I invite imaginative and enterprising people to nominate campaign songs for them. For example, there must be several songs with a “cruisin’ [Cruzing] to victory” theme in them. In the world of song, there’s everything, right?


Romney’s Out


Hugh Hewitt has the text of the message Romney will deliver to supporters on an 11AM E.S.T. conference call. I’ll talk about this with Hugh on his radio show tonight: 

Let me begin by letting you know who else is on this call, besides Ann and me. There are a large number of people who signed on to be leaders of our 2016 finance effort. In addition, state political leadership from several of the early primary states are on the line. And here in New York City, and on the phone, are people who have been helping me think through how to build a new team, as well as supporters from the past who have all been kind enough to volunteer their time during this deliberation stage. Welcome, and thank you. Your loyalty and friendship, and your desire to see the country with new, competent and conservative leadership warms my heart.

After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.

Let me give you some of my thinking. First, I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination. Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening. I know that early poll numbers move up and down a great deal during a campaign, but we would have no doubt started in a strong position. One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.

I also believe with the message of making the world safer, providing opportunity to every American regardless of the neighborhood they live in, and working to break the grip of poverty, I would have the best chance of beating the eventual Democrat nominee, but that is before the other contenders have had the opportunity to take their message to the voters.

 I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president. You can’t imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country.   But we believe it is for the best of the Party and the nation.

I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.

I encourage all of you on this call to stay engaged in the critical process of selecting a Republican nominee for President. Please feel free to sign up on a campaign for a person who you believe may become our best nominee.

I believe a Republican winning back the White House is essential for our country, and I will do whatever I can to make that happen.

To all my supporters, friends and family who worked both tirelessly and loyally to support my campaigns in the past, I will always be deeply appreciative. What you have already done is a tribute to your patriotism. We are overwhelmed and humbled by your loyalty to us, by your generosity of spirit, and by your friendship. God bless you all.

Web Briefing: January 30, 2015

Yes, Rob Long . . .


. . . will be on the NR 2015 Alaska Summer Cruise. Happy?! So maybe now you’ll book your cabin (20 have been reserved in the last ten days!) on Holland America Line’s luxurious Westerdam, which sails with a boatload (even Joe Biden would be correct — literally!) of NR fans, and top conservative speakers — including former NH governor John Sununu, supply-side champion Arthur Laffer, ace economists Stephen Moore and Kevin Hassett, former congresswoman Michele Bachmann, pollster Pat Caddell, National Affairs editor Yuval Levin, editor Katie Pavlich, top social commentators Naomi Schaefer Riley, James Lileks, and Andrew Klavan, military/security experts Pete Hegseth and John Hillen, leading conservative academic Daniel Mahoney, and from NR’s editorial All Stars Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, Jay Nordlinger, Ramesh Ponnuru, Kevin Williamson, Rob Long, Reihan Salam, Eliana Johnson, Jim Geraghty, Kathryn Lopez, Charles Cooke, John Miller, Patrick Brennan, Jillian Melchior, Andrew Johnson, Katherine Connell, and Joel Gehrke — July 18–25, visiting Seattle, Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, BC. What a week awaits! Don’t miss the boat: You can get complete information, and securely reserve your stateroom (prices start at only $2,299 a person), at


Are Russian Provocations Abroad Related to Britain’s Litvinenko Investigation?


The murder in 2006 of Alexander Litvinenko is a true sign of the times. What occurred is a coupling of low crime and high technology. Evidently Vladimir Putin wanted to get rid of a man who knew too much, and Russian secret-service agents administered a radioactive poison that is virtually undetectable. Two such agents, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun, have left radioactive traces that make them the prime suspects.

This foul deed rested on the assumption that the British reaction would be supine. The Foreign Office would as usual wring its hands. Sure enough, an official inquiry under a former judge has begun proceedings only after nine years of prevarication. On the first day, a scientist testified that the post-mortem could have been fatal to the pathologists, and was in all likelihood the most dangerous ever to have been carried out.

Back in Moscow, Andrei Lugovoy has made sure to avoid extradition and accuses the British of removing the mothballs from this case, as he puts it, to distract from the general election to be held in May. But just to make sure that the British get the point, also on the first day of the inquiry two Tupolev bombers capable of dropping nuclear bombs flew over the English Channel on the edge of British air space. Fighters scrambled to see them off, but not before what was described as “disruption to civil aviation.”

Nor is it a coincidence, as the Soviet comrades used to say, that the Russians have raised the level of violence against the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Television news has clips of rocket launchers and crews in action that are supposedly local but evidently — and menacingly — brought in from Russia. “Provocation” here is a tried and tested technique of accusing your opponent of the crimes you have yourself committed. Of course they claim that the Ukrainians are shelling their own people. Can’t be long before we are told that Litvinenko died because someone in Britain gave him access to a leaky nuclear plant; and besides, Tupolev bombers are purely defensive.

Identifying with Freedom: A Man Named Paul, A Scarlet C, and Courage



Note: An apology: Earlier today, when I posted this, in my desire to highlight the good work of Courage and my experiences with Legatus, I unintentionally conflated a few things. The speakers who dropped out did so because of a continuing controversy about this article which ran in Legatus’ magazine in 2011.

The confusion over what Courage is — surrounding the conference but not why the aforementioned invited speakers stepped aside– is what I wanted to address this morning. My deepest apologies — to all readers, and Gary Sinese, Bret Baier, and Paul Darrow especially, who all do good and important work in the world – for adding to the problem. — KJL

A controversy broke out regarding a Catholic conference this month where one really didn’t need to. Gary Sinise dropped out as a speaker. So did Bret Baier.

Both were scheduled to speak to the Legatus conference this weekend in Florida. It’s an annual gathering of Catholic professionals, many in business. I’ve spoken at a number of Legatus chapters across the U.S. through the years, most recently in Baltimore and upcoming in Michigan. I’ve always been impressed with the depth of faith and desire to live it through daily life. It tends to be an encounter with what the likes of the evangelical Green family of Hobby Lobby and the Hahn family of Conestoga Woods re-introduced to us through the federal case they had to fight: the non-privatization of faith, living whole lives of faith integrated in family and work. (Not privatizing faith, as it happens, is what Pope Francis talked about in his morning homily Thursday.)

I’m fond of both Sinise and Baier and their work. And I understand. They’ve both got a mission and the controversy regarding the conference – which I suspect they knew little about – was not something they wanted to be entangled in. But this is and will increasingly happen. In fact, it’s the second year in a row something like this has happened to the Legatus conference. Last year, Bob Newhart dropped out after a similar bullying campaign. (I wrote about it here.)

The controversy, this year, such that it is, was over a single speaker, Paul Darrow.

Keep reading this post . . .

Super Bowl/February/Groundhog Day links


February links - Pagan Roman purification (februa = purify) and Mary’s purification 40 days after the birth of Christ.

Life magazine archive of photos from Super Bowl 1.

Super Bowl stadiums made from meat.

Were footballs ever actually made of pigskin?

The Lost Tribe of Gypsy Harlots: The Mythical Invasion of the Super Bowl Hookers.

Groundhog Day, Candlemas and weather predictions.

Another old popular custom in Scotland on Candlemas Day was to hold a football match.

Where Did Groundhog Day Come From? 

Punxsutawney Phil has been correct just 39% of the time since 1887.

Jonah Goldberg’s classic 2005 Groundhog Day column.

8 years? 34 years? How long was Bill Murray stuck in Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day7 Pressing Questions You Probably Missed.

How to Write Groundhog Day by… the writer of Groundhog Day.

As Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell take off down the street once Groundhog Day has ended, Nat “King” Cole is singing Almost Like Being In Love.

ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include why sneezes come in 2s and 3s, a gallery of awkward mascots, the German man who went to court and won the right to pee standing up, and the origin of “couch potato”.

Join the National Review Wine Club and Save $100 — And Get Two Complimentary Bottles of Pinot Noir!


Why not get amazing wines delivered right to your door by joining the National Review Wine Club!  Join today and you’ll save $100 on 12 world-class wines. Plus, you’ll get two bottles of elegant Gracenote Pinot Noir worth $50 at no additional cost. For more information, click here.

Replace if Repeal: A Response to Some Critics


I published an essay last weekend on Obamacare that made the following points: The ACA is in danger, both from the Supreme Court and the possibility of a Republican in the White House in 2017; a common liberal argument in the face of such danger is that the repeal of Obamacare “equals death;” and “repeal equals death” is not the argument ender that many liberals pretend it to be.

I back up that last point by arguing that public policy makes choices all the time that result in higher rather than lower mortality rates; that in a world of scarce resources such choices are inevitable; and that it is not necessarily immoral to support a policy change even if that policy change will increase the mortality rate. If you disagree in principle, then you should favor a 10 mph speed limit.

Furthermore, liberals aren’t advocating that the goal of health policy should be ensuring “that every person with a treatable disease or injury avoids death,” so they too understand this, and so should stop using the “repeal equals death” argument as if it were an argument ender. I also argue in the essay that conservatives have been guilty in the past of injecting too much talk of death into the health-care debate, and point to Governor Palin’s “death panels” rhetoric as an example.

Having established that, I go on to argue that “if Obamacare perishes — and I hope it does — conservatives should be ready to coalesce around a concrete replacement plan.” I outline such a plan in the essay, explicitly calling for universal coverage as a policy goal, and conceding that “on this point, the president is correct.” I describe what universal coverage should look like, and point out that a Republican plan that would move the health-care system closer to that goal exists in the U.S. Senate. I argue that “repealing Obamacare and replacing it along these lines may result in more people dying — or fewer. That’s a pretty tough forecast to make.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Many liberals have taken issue with the essay. I think my friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru is correct that some of them don’t seem to have understood what I was arguing. But there are at least two criticisms worth addressing.

The first criticism is that I would be personally pleased if policy changes resulted in a significant increase in the mortality rate. Some people seem to be responding to the headline — which, following the standard practice in journalism, I didn’t write — described by Jonathan Chait as baldly callous and by Steve Benen as “jarringly callous.”

Ramesh gets it, responding to Mr. Chait:

When Strain writes that it “clearly would not be immoral” to repeal Obamacare, it seems to me in context obvious that he is not saying that repealing Obamacare would be morally okay whatever the replacement. (He’s not saying it would be alright to replace it with a system where it was illegal for poor people to buy health insurance.) He’s saying that the argument that repeal would kill people should not dissuade advocates of repeal, both because that effect is unlikely and because mortality rates aren’t the only criterion for evaluating a health system, although they are of course a very important one.

The second criticism that should be addressed was summarized nicely by Mr. Benen, writing on the Rachel Maddow blog:

There’s no denying the need for trade-offs in any system, and I’d love to compare the trade-offs in the Affordable Care Act to those in the Republican alternative, but at present, the GOP plan does not exist — despite more than five years of meaningless promises from party officials.

This relates to Strain’s thesis, of course, because he seems to believe the destruction of the ACA — leading to “a slightly higher mortality rate” — would be acceptable in part because of a Republican solution that could help take its place. If Strain has seen this elusive, mysterious alternative, here’s hoping he’ll share it with the rest of us.

I have two responses to this second criticism.

First, in the essay I explicitly argue that universal coverage should be a goal of any conservative alternative.

A better discussion, both then and today, is about appropriate social goals and the resources required to meet them. Among the many needed reforms to our health-care system, one should be that we move closer to universal insurance coverage — on this point, the president is correct. But what should universal coverage look like? It requires a nuanced answer.

Even if these liberal writers are correct, it is odd to criticize me for the absence of an alternative, since I am strongly advocating for one.

Second, I think it’s very likely that the congressional GOP would enact some sort of replacement if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare (and I think it’s very unlikely that a potential Republican president would repeal it without replacement in 2017). They would very likely take measures to address the needs of those who lost their subsidies as a result of the Court’s action. These liberal writers are not giving the congressional GOP the credit it’s due. From an article in the Hill this week:

Senate Republicans are preparing a legislative plan of action in case the Supreme Court strikes a major blow against ObamaCare and rules subsidies provided to people on the federal exchange are illegal.

GOP senators are confident the justices will rule in their favor, and they want to be ready to act if millions of people lose their subsidies to buy insurance through the healthcare law.

“If the Supreme Court were to say the law says what the law says, we would like to be ready with a response to that that makes practical sense for the 5 or 6 million Americans who would be affected,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is heading the effort along with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) are also participating.

From Politico, on January 3:

But Barrasso said several groups of lawmakers — members of the Republican Policy Committee and the two Senate committees with jurisdiction over health care — have begun talking about how to build consensus on a replacement plan.

And Brit Hume reported the following on Twitter.

Which brings me back to my original argument: Obamacare should be repealed; it should be replaced with a different plan, a goal of which should be universal coverage against catastrophic expenses so that no one who falls seriously ill or is seriously injured goes without the medical care they need, regardless of ability to pay; and preferring this outcome to the Obamacare status quo is not immoral.

— Michael R. Strain is deputy director of economic policy studies and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at

Krauthammer’s Take: Republicans Should Ignore Obama’s Budget


On Thursday’s Special Report, Charles Krauthammer said Republicans in Congress should not entertain the budget they’re about to see released by “the biggest deficit-increaser in the history of the galaxy.” Instead, Krauthammer explained, the GOP should pass a budget that only relieves defense-spending cuts, forcing the president either to sign or veto it.

“The [president’s] budget is going to be dead on arrival, so when it arrives you toss it in the wastebasket,” Krauthammer said. Relieving the entire sequester, as the president plans to request, for the sake of higher defense spending “is something I think Republicans ought not acquiesce to,” he said.

On the issue of the debt and the deficit, Krauthammer said, the president was prematurely celebrating victory where he had hardly accomplished anything. 

All You Need Is . . . Ecuador?


Now that’ll kill your love for the Beatles! The thugs running our favorite Venezuela-lite South American neighbor, who are up to their Ecuadorian globos oculares in the contrived RICO scheme to fleece Chevron (as NR writers have expounded upon here, here, here, here, here, and here — and that’s just for starters), have dropped $3.8 million for this Super Bowl commercial, urging Americans to visit.

Well, it’s a free country (ours is anyway) so do what you want, but if you do go there, you may want to lay off the negative tweets about Rafael Correa — the thin-skinned El Presidente doesn’t take kindly to criticism.

If You Give a Dictator a Cookie . . .


In a perfect exhibition of the chasm between the power the Obama administration actually wields in foreign relations and the power the administration thinks it wields: the current White House offered, virtually without condition, the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba (a one-party dictatorship with a gulag, which has been forced for decades to rely for survival on the largesse of America’s enemies, from the Soviet Union to Chavez’s Venezuela) — and it is Raul Castro who is putting conditions on the deal. Via NBC News:

“The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” Castro told delegates [at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit in Costa Rica on Wednesday].

The United States’ base at Guantánamo Bay was established in 1903 — meaning it predates the current Cuban regime by 56 years — and reaffirmed in a treaty with Cuba in 1934, the terms of which grant the territory to the U.S. into perpetuity, unless both nations agree otherwise.

But that is, of course, not all that Castro wants:

He also demanded the U.S. end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts and deliver “just compensation to our people for the human and economic damage that they’re suffered.”

That is, the economic damage caused by the United States’ half-century trade embargo that, as everyone from Rand Paul to the White House averred last month, “hasn’t worked.”

If by that phrase critics mean that the embargo has not effected regime change, that is true; but that likely is a result of the fact that the embargo has often been observed in the breach, not that it has failed despite our most aggressive enforcement efforts. Regardless, for the past 50 years the average cubano is the one who has suffered, not because of the embargo as such, but because the response to it from the Castro regime — the military, the administrative cronies, los jefes themselves — has been to seize for itself as much as it can of the wealth that comes into the country. Since the same coterie that has controlled the island since the revolution will manage investment opportunities in post-embargo Cuba, it is entirely plausible that lifting the embargo will simply enable the regime to channel greater wealth into its own pockets.

That is precisely where any “just compensation” offered by the Obama administration would go. But with the president so eager to secure his legacy with this diplomatic coup (and others), is he even capable of saying no?

The ‘Simplistic Barbara Ward’


Mike, if you haven’t read much about Barbara Ward lately, you haven’t read Rupert Darwall’s splendid Global Warming: A History, which I reviewed for NRO here. She plays a very shabby part in the story that Rupert tells.

You can get a flavor of it from this Spiked review of the book by Rob Lyons:

It starts with a prediction that Ward made in 1972:

If all man can offer to the decades ahead is the same combination of scientific drive, economic cupidity and national arrogance, then we cannot rate very highly the chances of reaching the year 2000 with our planet still functioning and our humanity securely preserved.’

In other words the usual apocalyptic flim-flam, as arrogant as always, as manipulative as always and as inaccurate as always.


Ward was the . . . former assistant editor at The Economist who later taught economics at Harvard, Ward befriended high-profile economist JK Galbraith and became a confidante of US president Lyndon Johnson. Ward was a player in high places, both in the West and in the newly independent countries of the developing world. She was friends with a number of the new African leaders, including Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta and Kenneth Kaunda, and it was Ward’s involvement that persuaded Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi to speak in Stockholm.

Ward believed that ‘the market alone cannot begin to accomplish the scale of readjustment that will be needed once the concept of unlimitedly growing wealth, mediated to all by a “trickle down” process, ceases to be a rational possibility for tomorrow’s world economy’. It was Ward – along with the Canadian conference organiser, Maurice Strong — who helped to forge a ‘political compact between First World environmentalism and Third World development aspirations’, as Darwall describes it. Further economic growth in the West would harm the environment, it was suggested, but growth in the developing world was good for the environment. This blatant piece of eco-diplomacy later became summed up in the concept of ‘sustainable development’. As Darwall argues, ‘sustainable development was the political fiction environmentalism needed to buy developing nations’ neutrality’. Such a fiction couldn’t survive the tensions created when the developing world started developing in earnest.

Ward believed (as I noted here) in a form of mid-century command-and-control that was reinforced by her take on the Christian ethic (she was a fairly devout Roman Catholic).

This passage from Darwall’s book caught my attention in that connection:

[Ward] lobbied the Second Vatican Council on Third World Development. In 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, with Ward as one of its members. The encyclical, Populorum Progressio, ‘The Development of the Peoples’, with its criticism of ‘unbridled liberalism’, its call for ‘concerted planning’ and the creation of a ‘World Fund’ are all evidence of Ward’s imprint.


CBO Budget: Enjoy the Dropping Deficits, Because They Won’t Last for Long


In the last few days, I’ve seen a few people argue that the falling federal deficit, which is real and good news, should mean we can raise spending again. One argument is that spending would boost the economy in the short term — which makes no sense if, as the president claimed in his State of the Union address, the economy is going strong.

Now, it certainly is true that the Congressional Budget Office’s latest budget and economic outlook for the next ten years does show the deficit dropping. In FY2014 the deficit was $483 billion; in FY2015 it’ll be $468 billion. These shortfalls are lower than projected a few years ago, and they’re much lower than the levels we’ve had since the beginning of the Obama presidency.

But it’s not time to start spending more. Here’s why:

While deficits will remain more or less at the current level through 2018, it won’t last. In 2025, the deficit will pass $1 trillion again, 4 percent of GDP at that point.
Because the growth in deficits is the result of the explosion in entitlement spending rather than a one-time increase in spending (as it was in 2008 and 2009), these deficits will keep growing unless we change their underlying cause.
Calls for more spending is evidence that people can get used to anything. $468 billion is lower than $1 trillion, but it’s still much higher than we’ve ever had before. For instance, in FY2007, the deficit was $160.7 billion, or ;1.1 percent of GDP. Under current law, it’s never going to drop below 2.5 percent of GDP ever again.
Our deficits may have gone down, but out debt levels are still rising. In FY2014, debt held by the public was 74.1 percent of GDP — it was 35.1 percent of GDP in 2007. There too, there’s no hope that it will go anywhere but up: The CBO projects that debt will go from 74 percent today to 78.7 percent of GDP in 2025.

The CBO report includes a chart always worth staring at:

Last summer, my colleague Jason Fichtner and I wrote a short paper called “the U.S. Debt Crisis: Far From Solved.” Its findings remain relevant today:

As economists, we’re concerned about the negative consequences of excessive debt. But neither we nor any other economist can identify at what point high
debt levels become unacceptable to global credit markets. Nor can we reliably predict what form the resulting fiscal crisis will take. It could mean an inexorable deterioration of the US economy.25 Or it could be more abrupt, with creditors losing faith and pulling their funds from the United States overnight, throwing the country into a vicious debt spiral, another deep recession, and ultimately a lower standard of living here and around the world.
This outcome is not inevitable, but it grows dangerously more likely as policymakers delay taking action. Continued failure to reform the main drivers of current and future spending and debt—principally Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act—will eventually force deep and highly destabilizing policy changes. Only by acting soon and maintaining a longterm commitment to controlling spending can policymakers avoid a potentially irreversible decline in Americans’ standard of living.

That’s quite similar to the warnings in the CBO report itself.

Keep reading this post . . .

Cruz Demands Answers Over Taxpayer-Funded Nonprofit Working to Unseat Israel’s Netanyahu


Texas Republican senator Ted Cruz and New York Republican congressman Lee Zeldin demanded answers from Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, sending a letter with questions regarding a taxpayer-funded nonprofit working with President Obama’s former national campaign field director to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We write to express strong concerns over the recent media reports that a U.S. taxpayer funded 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called OneVoice is actively working with a campaign operation called V15 or ‘Victory 2015′ in an effort to influence the outcome of the elections in Israel, on March 17, 2015,” the two GOP lawmakers begin. 

They reference an article from the Hebrew edition of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz​ claiming that OneVoice — a nonprofit funded in part by the American taxpayer — flew five American experts into Tel Aviv to help run the campaign to beat Netanyahu in the upcoming vote. One of those experts was Jeremy Bird, a two-time Obama campaign veteran who was the president’s national campaign field director in 2012.

The article alleges that OneVoice is working closely with “Victory 2015,” an Israeli organization openly pushing to defeat Netanyahu. In fact, Haaretz claims OneVoice will “merge” with V15 before the Israeli elections take place.

“Given the overtly partisan nature of this particular case, we are deeply concerned by the relationship that also exists between OneVoice and the U.S. Department of State,” the lawmakers continue, noting that OneVoice lists the State Department as a sponsor on their website. The group claims it received U.S. Government grants from the American embassy in Tel Aviv and took money from the State Department in 2014.

“Given the public statements by a number of Obama administration officials, including the President, that it would be ‘inappropriate’ for the government of the United States to exercise any influence over elections in a foreign country including Israel, we believe this issue demands your urgent attention,” Cruz and Zeldin write. There appears to be a danger that U.S. taxpayer funds are being used to directly shape the outcome of the upcoming Israeli election–and specifically to campaign against Prime Minister Netanyahu–something all would agree would be highly inappropriate.”

There is no bad blood lost between the Israeli prime minister and the White House, particularly after Netanyahu’s acceptance of a March 3 invitation by House Speaker John Boehner to address Congress on the issue of Iranian sanctions. President Obama is reportedly livid over the move, believing it could scuttle his attempts to hold off congressional sanctions against the Islamic theocracy before negotiations over its nuclear program are complete. 

The White House is refusing to meet with Netanyahu during his visit, claiming it is not U.S. policy to meet with foreign leaders two weeks before their upcoming election for fear of influencing the outcome. 

Cutting Unemployment Insurance Probably Does Create Jobs, But We Don’t Know How Many Yet


A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research has made waves by claiming that 1.8 million jobs were created by the expiration of unemployment benefits at the end of 2013. What went into that estimate? Will it stand up to criticism?

First, some perspective: 2014 really was a good year for the labor market. The U.S. economy created 3 million jobs in 2014, up from 2.3 million in 2013 and 2.2 million in 2012. From its nadir in December 2009 to December 2013, the share of 25- to 54-year olds working grew 1.3 percentage points. In 2014, the same ratio grew 0.9 percentage points.

But 1.8 million is a lot of jobs to ascribe to a single policy change, even in a good year. Population growth accounts for about 1.3 million jobs a year, and some employment recovery would be expected regardless of policy. In addition, concerns with the data source used by Marcus Hagedorn, Iourii Manovskii and Kurt Mitman in the NBER paper mean that the dramatic estimate probably will be revised downward when better data becomes available.

Another problem is that although Hagedorn, et al.’s theory is sound, their empirical methodology may not match the theory. They want to use neighboring counties in different states as a pseudo-experiment, with each county experiencing a different policy treatment. But county pairs can either be too entwined, so that the policy treatments spill over across the border, or too distant, so they can’t offer a meaningful comparison. (For more details on the paper, see Patrick Brennan’s excellent write-up.)

Some critics of Hagedorn, et al. have pointed out that micro-based research, looking at the incentives for job searchers rather than overall jobs data, finds much smaller effects on employment. But Hagedorn, et al. explicitly agree: The macro effects, they argue, far outweigh the micro effects. So there is no intellectual contradiction between the new and old research, even though the policy implications are very different.

Manovskii and Hagedorn’s long-term research program is steadily building a theoretical and empirical case that there are large macroeconomic costs to unemployment insurance. Their former students, Mitman and Stanislav Rabinovich, have one of the most empirically successful models of unemployment, which finds that the post-1990 “jobless recovery” phenomenon is largely due to the expansion of unemployment insurance (a finding that the group vigorously defended against the Council of Economic Advisers).

The macroeconomic costs to unemployment insurance come from the demand side. Employers have a narrow benefit from each marginal hire, so hiring can respond a lot to a small shift in wages. Unemployment insurance gives potential employees more bargaining power, raising the equilibrium hiring wage a little, but lowering the equilibrium number of hires a lot.

Manovskii and Hagedorn’s research is a good reminder that economic incentives are as important on the demand side as on the supply side, and in imperfect markets as well as frictionless ones. While economists promising free lunches will always find a politician willing to buy them lunch, the research is perpetually reminding policymakers that there are real tradeoffs.

We know this: Unemployment insurance is a good way to soften the personal blow of job loss in a recession, but at the cost of slowing the recovery. How great those costs are exactly, we’re still discovering.

— Salim Furth is a senior policy analyst in macroeconomics at the Heritage Foundation.

I Miss WFB


This is of course not an uncommon sentiment here at NR, but here’s one very specific instance. Over at the Federalist, some folks are debating whether Pope Francis is a dangerous left-winger who must be resisted by all right-thinking people. I leave the combatants to their cudgels, to settle that pressing question among themselves; and desire only to point out a Bill Buckley sentence invoked by one of them, about an earlier pope (Paul VI): “Indeed, the pope sometimes reads like a simplistic Barbara Ward, than whom there are few writers more simplistic.”

That’s an absolutely classic WFB sentence structure: main clause, noun, comma, “than whom,” secondary clause. (NB: At the time, Barbara Ward was a quite famous and influential public intellectual; but I hadn’t heard her name in many years when I ran across this.)

People of Color


For many years, I’ve been banging on about the injustice of “red” and “blue” in America. Red is for conservative, and blue is for Obamite (in a word) — and that is just bassackwards. It’s an absurd reversal of the historical norms. For eons — or at least since the French Revolution — red has been the color of socialism or leftism, and blue has been the color of conservatism. The red rose is the symbol of socialist parties and movements everywhere.

In Britain, the Conservatives are known as “Team Blue.” The color of Labour is red. This is exactly how Nature intended it. (UKIP is purple. I don’t know whether Mother Nature has weighed in on UKIP, though Farage is certainly a force of nature.)

I know a lost cause when I see one, so I have largely given up banging on about America’s color confusion. But I gave a little start when seeing David French refer to conservative culture as “red culture” (in this post).

That’s because I have been doing some work on China recently, and, in China, “red culture” is a live term. It basically refers to all things having to do with Mao, the early CCP, the Cultural Revolution, and true-blue Communism (so to speak).

One of Mao’s grandchildren is a woman named Kong Dongmei — who, with her husband, is one of the richest people in all of China, but let that pass. She was born in 1972 and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, among other institutions. When she came home from America, she opened a bookstore dedicated to promoting a “new red culture.” (Sometimes “red” is spelled with a capital R. Kong Dongmei, by the way, is a “Red descendant,” or “red descendant” — heiress to the Party elite.)

In 2010, China Daily found Kong Dongmei surrounded by portraits and quotations of Mao, as well as posters of Lenin, Gandhi, and Che Guevara.

Just let me say, that’s what many dorm rooms looked like when I was in college.

Anyway, “red culture,” referring to us? Are country music, NASCAR, and “Don’t Tread on Me” to be components of “red culture”? Shouldn’t that be the guillotine and the gulag? I guess I have to go with the flow, linguistic and otherwise. Still, I start, shudder, and bridle, just a bit.

Code Pink Should Face Criminal Penalties


As a Senate staffer during the last years of the Bush administration, I was appalled at the behavior of Code Pink, and equally appalled that Congress would allow it. Freedom of speech is no justification for allowing people to disrupt democratic procedure. Procedure is one of the most precious things we have. It’s what elevates our institutions above demagogic personalities. It’s what ultimately gives everyone a seat at the table of self-government. We should cherish it and protect it from hooligans like Code Pink, just as we protect our monuments from vandalism. 

We are incredibly lucky to live in a society where political speech, the freedom to dissent, is protected — outside university campuses, at any rate. No one is denying Code Pink’s clown show the right to speak publicly. If what they have to say is so stupid that nobody’s interested in listening, that’s their problem, not ours. If they think this or that person should be arrested for war crimes, but can’t convince any judge anywhere to pay attention, that’s their problem, not ours. Nothing can justify today’s absolutely disgraceful and revolting episode

As lucky as we are to have freedom of speech, we are also lucky to live in a society in which we — the public — can freely attend proceedings of Congress. We are lucky that we can sit in on a congressional hearing such as the one held today in the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which senators representing tens of millions of Americans engaged in a democratic dialogue with living giants of American history. We are lucky to live in a society in which our elected leaders put procedure above their own whims and fancies because they put us — the people — above themselves. 

Code Pink abuses that privilege. It disrupts the democratic process that all Americans depend on, and replaces it with its own whims and fancies, as if the just causes it thinks it has stumbled upon justify cancelling democracy for the rest of us.

It’s time for Congress to impose criminal penalties on those who disrupt committee hearings and floor debates. Code Pink is not exercising freedom of speech. It is committing a crime against democracy itself, and it should be punished. 

American Sniper and the Far Left’s Culture-War Losing Streak


American Sniper isn’t just a hit, it’s on its way to a colossal box-office return. It’s already the tenth-highest grossing movie of 2014 (the movie opened in select theaters at Christmas) and is well on its way to the top three — this despite a furious backlash from the Left, with rhetoric that routinely borders on the hysterical. Yet the people still come, in droves. Friends of mine are relating how, days later, the movie is still having an impact on them, making them think more about the war, about the experience of veterans, and the nature of our enemy.

All of this represents a defeat for a cultural Left that is used to getting its way. It is used to exercising the power to name and shame — to exclude politically incorrect discourse and entertainment from American pop culture and public life. Until recently, anyway. 

If one looks back at the large-scale cultural fights of the past three years, there’s an emerging pattern: When the Left butts heads with a “red” institution, seeking to diminish its influence in red America, the backlash is intense. Remember the Chick-fil-A boycotts so swamped by “buycotts” that restaurants actually ran out of chicken? Or remember A&E’s capitulation in the face of overwhelming support for Phil Robertson? Then there was of course the almost laughably ineffective boycott of Hobby Lobby, where hosts of people who never go to craft stores anyway pledged to somehow put the company out of business for resisting the HHS abortion-pill mandate.

The attacks on American Sniper follow this same script. While veterans are hardly ideologically monolithic, they do tend to be more conservative, and conservative Americans recognized quickly that many of the movie’s leftist critics dropped entirely the “support the troops but oppose the war” facade and went right after Chris Kyle personally–creating a false moral equivalence between an exceedingly precise sniper who killed identified enemy combatants and depraved terrorists who intentionally killed and maimed as many civilians as they could. Certainly many liberals have enjoyed the film and honor Chris Kyle for his service (including friends of mine), but outside of the fever swamps of Lew Rockwell-land, the attacks on the film have come overwhelmingly from the Left.

And they’ve mainly succeeded in making the movie more popular and–ultimately–more influential.

But while it’s a promising development that red culture is increasingly immune to the politically correct left–leaving them howling with impotent rage as “our” institutions continue to prosper — the news is much less good if you’re a red individual or red institution in America’s blue regions. In a recent print edition of National Review, I wrote about the persecution of Gordon College, a Christian college near Boston facing threats to its accreditation — and thus its very existence — simply because its policies reflect and uphold orthodox Christian sexual morality. And it’s fighting its battle without (so far) a groundswell even of Christian support, much less conservative support. Yesterday, I wrote about the California Supreme Court barring judges from serving as scoutmasters, with minimal controversy. And while Phil Robertson kept his job and still reaches millions of Americans every week on his TV show, Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla with the greatest of ease.

The Left’s recent culture-war failures show that they’ve haven’t yet succeeded in drowning out conservative voices, but the end result hasn’t necessarily been increased liberty but increased tribalism. We protect our turf. They control their turf. Meanwhile, liberty — and our shared American identity — wither away.


Sign up for free NR e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review