It was an amazing morning in the New York Times!

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2012

What the heck happened to Seamus: This was an amazing morning on the op-ed page of the Times.

As usual, Collins and Kristof bordered the page. But this morning, each scribe wrote a serious column, concerning a serious topic!

Needless to say, the shock was greatest from Collins. Mitt Romney’s dog was MIA, although he’ll be back on Saturday morning. This morning, Collins’ attention span was such that she was able to write 800 words on a serious topic without drifting off into snark and snide or puzzling about dog carriers.

At one point, Collins even tipped her chapeau to us! Your DAILY HOWLER keeps getting results! (Search on “howling.”)

Collins stayed serious all the way through; as usual, so did Kristof. He discusses Charles Murray’s new book, which has produced quite a few predictable tribal reactions. Many of those tribal reactions have been on-point, of course; Kristof’s basic reaction to Murray’s thesis is that of the liberal world. (What we need most is “good union jobs.”) But we especially liked Kristof’s column because he moved beyond the tribal win to worries about the real world:
KRISTOF (2/9/12): Today, I fear we’re facing a crisis in which a chunk of working-class America risks being calcified into an underclass, marked by drugs, despair, family decline, high incarceration rates and a diminishing role of jobs and education as escalators of upward mobility. We need a national conversation about these dimensions of poverty, and maybe Murray can help trigger it. I fear that liberals are too quick to think of inequality as basically about taxes. Yes, our tax system is a disgrace, but poverty is so much deeper and more complex than that.
Can Murray help trigger that discussion? Almost surely not. But Kristof’s column discusses real people who live in real places. Quite often, our team exults in the tribal win, then moves to other concerns.

The New York Times was a real shock today. Collins and Kristof bordered the page—and neither scribe played the fool. It seemed like something you’d expect from a newspaper in a real world.

23 comments:

  1. IMHO Gal Collin's article is pleasantly written, but logically deficient. She says the Catholic Church ia "trying to get the government to do their work for them." That's upside down. The debate isn't over a mandate the Church wants to place on the government. On the contrary, the Church is trying to free themselves from a mandate the government has placed on them, because that mandate conflicts with their religious teachings.

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    1. It is a fact 98% of catholic women have risked eternal damnation and used birth control. Its estimated 2/3rds of these women are long term users. They either don't want children or want to control when they have them. Commanding couples, especially married couples, to give up sex until they want children is a non-starter. Some might say its even cruel to force this kind of choice on them.

      It's obvious almost all American catholic women disagree with their church on this issue. Its the church who can't control its flock and is now looking to secular law to do the job for them.

      ps

      Depaul University, the largest catholic university, already offers contraception with no co-pay to female employees who want it through its health insurance plan.

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    2. Yes, Collins' "logic" is poorly written, since the church isn't really looking for the government's aid in pushing their doctrine. But as poorly thought arguments go, your assertion is likewise logically bereft. The church is not "trying to free themselves from a mandate the government has placed on them," they are trying to help their affiliated institutions which are NOT, in and of themselves, churches, gain special exemption from existing law based on religious grounds.

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    3. The Real AnonymousFebruary 9, 2012 at 1:22 PM

      Yeah, and what they're trying to do is to get a secular government to extend Catholic doctrine to the population at large.

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  2. In fairness to Kristof, I don't think he said that what we need most is “good union jobs.” He did name "the decline in good union jobs" as one cause of the pathology of poverty. However, Kristof didn't say these jobs were coming back. Instead, he named some other liberal progams that he thinks can help.

    FWIW, my conservative view is that we can't provide good union jobs for everyone. The resources don't exist. Foreign competition must be met. However, we do have enough resources to provide bad jobs for everyone. I think it's healthier for someone to work at a bad job than it is to be long-term unemployed.

    In my view, the most harmful liberal policies are minimum wage laws and laws making it difficult to fire people. These laws are supposed to be particularly helpful to the poor. However IMHO they harm the poor, because they discourage organizations from hiring the poor in the first place.

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    1. Actually he said finding a good woman to love will cure whatever ails you, even having your job disappear or being diagnosed with an illness that might very well bankrupt you.

      Kind of made me want to weep, you know?

      I won't even deal with your idea in this land of opportunity the opportunity you're willing to offer is a "bad job."

      That's just dumb.

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    2. I disagree with you David--I think we have plenty of resources, but we allocate them in absolutely insane and inefficient ways. This allocation is insane in both the private and public sectors, so I'm not singling any particular area out! :)

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    3. "In my view, the most harmful liberal policies are minimum wage laws and laws making it difficult to fire people."

      Other commentators have already pointed out that American employers can hire and fire as they please, but perhaps you'd care to cite examples of prosperous industrial democracies without minimum wage laws? Or is this belief simply doctrinal?

      For example, German manufacturing workers earn on average about $40/hr. -- plus benefits which are ludicrously generous by American standards. And Germany doesn't appear to have any difficulty competing in the world economy. Meanwhile, tens of millions of Americans with kill to work for half that wage, and without benefits at all.

      Of course, it's not hard to cite examples of rapidly growing economies with no meaningful minimum wage laws (e.g., China, India, Vietnam). And perhaps that's what David in Cal has in mind for us. Trouble is, Americans can't live and satisfy their legal obligations, on Chinese wages -- we can't legally live in unheated shacks without plumbing, have to send our children to school in shoes and clothing, have to fed them, etc.

      Perhaps we need to build dormitories for American workers, keep them single, and let employers pay what they want, after deducting the cost of food and housing. Next, we need drastic cuts in social spending and Medicare, to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle-class -- after all, they'll get rich quick when we finally do away with the minimum wage.

      Then maybe David in Cal will finally be happy, clipping his coupons. Instead of being made miserable by the welfare state, while he clips his coupons. It's always amazing that so-called conservatives or libertarians, who you'd think would be content to live on their own terms, without imposing them on anyone else, just can't be happy until every follows their prescriptions.

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    4. You think a $2 an hour wage is OK, but I suspect you don't want it for you, your wife, your mom,
      or your kids. Am I right?
      You don't have to swallow right-wing economic ideology whole.. Who said we don't have resources to pay a living wage? We have plenty of money for 800 military bases around the world.
      American worker productivity has been rising for decades. But where does all of the added value go? To the top 1/10 of 1%, the super-wealthy investor class, which buys our "democracy".

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    5. The most fundamental law in economics is the Law of Supply and Demand. It's to be to expected that if workers are available at lower wages, the demand for workers will be higher. I would be quite dubious of any study purporing to show the opposite. It would be extraordinary if this fundamental law didn't apply to employment. As Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

      Anonymous, you appear to be questioning my motives. Perhaps I should question yours. The black teenage unemployment rate is a horrendous 41%! That likely means that a huge chunk of young black men cannot get into the regular workforce. Aside from their material needs, think about what kind of life someone is pushed into if he cannot get into the regular labor market.

      You say it's difficult to live on minimum wage. I agree. However, difficult doesn't mean impossible. I supported a wife and child on $200/month when I was in graduate school. That equates to $16,163/year in today's dollars. That figure is slightly larger than today's minimum wage of $14,500/year (assuming a 2000 hour work-year.) However, a family of 3 living on minimum wage today would likely be eligible for food stamps, Medicaid and perhaps other government benefits.

      Second point: One way or another, our government and other institutions are supporting the many millions of unemployed people. It would be that much easier to support them if they were earning a small wage, rather than nothing.

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    6. @David in Cal:

      "It would be extraordinary if this fundamental law [supply/demand] didn't apply to employment. As Carl Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

      Citing a "law" whose applicability to the labor market in a complex industrial society is precisely the question we're debating is not proof that the law pertains. If you want to prove that getting rid of the minimum wage increases prosperity you can't, for example, cite the law of gravity. You need empirical evidence. I asked for evidence that doing away with the minimum wage increases the prosperity of workers, and you declined to provide it.

      "Aside from their material needs, think about what kind of life someone is pushed into if he cannot get into the regular labor market."

      Did you ever consider that large numbers of the permanent underclass more or less remove themselves from the labor market -- at least, the market for legal goods and services -- because the jobs pay so little, relative to what they need to live? And if you're so convinced that people will gladly (or desperately) work for next to nothing, isn't that a great argument for steeply increasing taxes on the rich? Or are only the poor subject to the "law" of supply and demand?

      "However, a family of 3 living on minimum wage today would likely be eligible for food stamps, Medicaid and perhaps other government benefits."

      In other words, government aid to the poor is actually *corporate* welfare: employees of Walmart eat only because the Federal government subsidizes their wages. Meanwhile, Walmart makes huge profits and use them to lobby for ever lower taxes, deregulation and anti-union politicians. Sounds like another application of the "law" of supply and demand.....

      "One way or another, our government and other institutions are supporting the many millions of unemployed people. It would be that much easier to support them if they were earning a small wage, rather than nothing."

      Great! But instead of paying them a small wage so that corporate America can exploit cheap labor for every higher profits, how about we hire them directly to do vital infrastructure and/or WPA type work, and pay them decently? This way the benefits go directly to the needy, without corporate America taking its [big] cut?

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    7. David's argument is essentially a variant of Marie Antionette's infamous response to the French peasant class' starvation. "Let them earn pennies," as it were.

      Lowering or eliminating the minimum wage is the worst idea I have encountered in some time-- reduction in wages at the bottom puts downward pressure on ALL wages (of working people, that is-- doctors, lawyers and corporate execs somehow escape this pressure, but that's a separate issue altogether). David would have everyone's pay decreased at a time when the demand-starved consumer-based economy is hanging by a thread. Brilliant.

      How do we know this relationship between wage levels is true? Simple-- the past 30 years have seen the rise of "globalization," which is a euphemism for the offshoring of good jobs from the U.S. to 3rd-world nations where the cost of living is miniscule, comparatively, and the workers enjoy virtually no protections from rapacious corporate bosses. The proper term is actually "labor arbitrage," since businesses are not seeking a comparative advantage in the labor market within this country-- rather, they are seeking (and obtaining) absolute advantage against domestic workers by exploiting powerless workers in foreign lands.

      Anyway, over the past 30 years or so of this labor market manipulation, Americans' wages in real terms have declined significantly. American workers' productivity has roughly doubled over that period, meaning their wages have been artificially deflated by over 50% by management-friendly policies like David has suggested. That situation cannot be remedied by further lowering wages domestically to the below-subsistence level of oppressed wage-slaves overseas.

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  3. FYI Bob, you link to Gail Collins' column goes to Kristof's instead.


    Here's where it should go:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/opinion/collins-tales-from-the-kitchen-table.html?ref=opinion

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    1. A coincidence?

      Maybe, maybe not.

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  4. In my view, the most harmful liberal policies are minimum wage laws and laws making it difficult to fire people. These laws are supposed to be particularly helpful to the poor. However IMHO they harm the poor, because they discourage organizations from hiring the poor in the first place.

    If you are not under contract for work with your employer, you can be let go at any time, and no reason has to be given (i.e. at will employment). I personally think employers should give a reason when they let someone go, it's only fair. If companies can show cause for firing an employee, they can deny them unemployment benefits.

    Minimum wage laws have been shown repeated to have no impact on employment rates. This is basic empirical research, versus "black board" neoclassical economics. Pleas see here http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/min-wage-2011-03.pdf

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    1. Its been true for many years now an employer can fire an employee for any or no reason at all.

      This has been backed up by the courts.

      It just goes to show you don't have to be informed to have an opinion.

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    2. In practice there are many reasons why it may be difficult to fire an employee. First of all, you cannot fire someone for involvement with a union or because of prejudice. Today, a large majority of Americans are protected "minorities." The only non-minorities might be caucasian men of age 39 or less and who don't have Spanish surnames.

      If your employee manual lays out a certain termination procedure, the employer may be required to follow that procedure.

      The bottom line is that it's easy for most fired employees to file suit. (The same applies to other personnel decisions, such as not promoting someone.) Because it's so easy tp sue, it has become common for employers to try to negotiate a termination package in exchange for the employee's promise not to sue.

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    3. I'm sure you know so many folks who are fooling around, suing their employers, have the best lawyers,and are just waiting for that dough to roll in from the suit! Good lord please.
      In practise, I believe you're an idiot.

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    4. David in Cal:

      I hope we can agree that firing someone because of an employer's prejudice is a bad thing and should be illegal, as is termination for "involvement with a union." Companies certainly do have their own internal termination policies, which help them avoid situations in which an employee maybe unfairly terminated by their supervisor.

      While it is true it is easy to file a lawsuit (you can file one for almost anything), it is very, very hard to win a discrimination lawsuit against an employer. A supervisor or a higher up has to do something clearly questionable for it to even get near a jury.

      In the end though, most people work as at will employees, and can be let go at any time for almost any reason.

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  5. Mr. Somerby writes: "Can Murray help trigger that discussion? Almost surely not."

    I don't know about you but I find its difficult to have a serious discussion with people who believe the poor "aren't really poor" because they have refrigerators and the like.

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  6. Kristof: "Liberals sometimes feel that it is narrow-minded to favor traditional marriage." In a world where the Palins of Wasilla get to tout 'family' and the Obamas of Chicago are, somehow, not quite real Americans, this kind of straw dog is just what we don't need more of.

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  7. What's really weird about the Catholic Church's position, aside from whining about how the oppressed they are for not being able to force their dogma (arf!) on non-Catholics, is their insistence that theirs is the moral position while ignoring the obvious, disastrous math of ever-mounting overpopulation. There have already been dozens of mass famines in Africa and, unless world population growth is stopped or, even better, reversed the problem of hunger and our ever-dwindling finite resources threatens the very heart of civilization.

    Birth control is, therefore, not just OK, not just profoundly moral, but an utter, absolute necessity if calamity is to be avoided. According to the Catholic Church, getting in the way of that is an indispensible part of their moral guardianship.

    Frankly, I think they're better off boffing choir boys.

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  8. Paul Krugman has had some info on social issues in the last few days, tn the NYT. Crime has actually gone down. I myself think we still have high incarceration rates because of fool-ass laws against marijuana etc., and because we have "private" (paid for with public money, of course) prisons , whose investors have a financial interest in having more prisoners, and they employ lobbyists.
    Marriage rates are down across income and educational levels, but down the most among the least educated. I suspect this is partly because poor men can't afford wives and kids!

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