Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mostly Longers

watch the bloggingheads bit M. linked to down below. Megan isn't pretending to be nice for once, you can practically hear her screaming "who the fuck are you to disagree with ME?", and, of course, neither was she being at all intelligent. I consider Megan to be unemployed, because her position only exists to "make work" for an ineffectively cloaked conservative propagandist. She contributes no added value, whatsoever. She has admitted her position exists outside market forces, which means she doesn't live up to her own principles. But still, we should be pissed the government is trying to help people with OUR tax dollars.

Euro-area growth falls fast:

Hey Europe, why do you keep hitting yourself? You thought you were sooooooo much better than us, but now our massive fuck-ups are dragging you down, too. Hah hah!
(Remember, Megan can't be a bully, no matter how big an asshole she is to anyone, because she's totally nice to her friends, to their faces.)

Time to short Jenny Craig?:

Noted food expert Megan McArdle is now going to make us laugh with a parody piece.

The move towards "affordable luxury" foodstuffs has been one of the great trends of the last twenty years. Grocery stores everywhere have gotten unbelievably better than they used to be, with produce and freezer sections exploding, and canned goods retreating in importance. I'm always shocked, reading old cookbooks, to see ingredients now regarded as downmarket, like canned shrimp, appearing in recipes designed for formal dinner parties served by hired staff. And one of my favorite cookbooks, the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook, frequently makes references to recipes being "economical" in ways that don't make sense without hard thought.
Remember back before American food production became completely industrialized and basic foodstuffs had prices that reflected their actual costs? Megan doesn't. The hired staff must've been sheltering her from the truth.
In comparison to my grandparents, who rarely ate out and never bought a brand name if something else was cheaper, the normal life of a not-particularly-well-off urban thirtysomething seemed positively sybaritic. Three restaurant meals in one week? Drinks out every other evening? Gourmet tea? And what about all the prepared meals--the takeout, the rotisserie chickens, the $5 containers of Wegmans soup? But without a wife at home, who has time to make meals from scratch?
Please note, not particularly well off means they make less than a quarter million a year in Megan's mind. However, these are the only people in the world, or at least the only people who eat food. Thus, what follows isn't ludicrous.
Home prepared meals are much less standardized, and not so fined tuned to hit the salty/sweet/fatty buttons over and over. Also, much of the shopping is done for them when you aren't actually hungry, and so you're likely to pick healthier foods with lower caloric density--committing your future self to behave more virtuously than it probaby [sic] would decide to on the spur of the moment. A leaner wallet may mean a leaner you.
I'd mock the reasoning that applies any of this scenario to the average newly unemployed urban single mom, but first I'd have to understand that reasoning. As roughly every other commenter to the post mentioned, cheap food tends to be very unhealthy, and fattening. Malnutrition and obesity are intricately linked in the US, but Megan refuses to understand that. It's so much easier to blame people for being fat and poor, so that you can avoid feeling guilty for supporting policies which keep them fat and poor.

What is "unemployment" she said, and washed her hands ....:

I swear, that's the real title she came up with.
Dean Baker and I did a bloggingheads last week which has only just gone up now. One of the things we got stuck on is whether measures of unemployment in the 1930s should include government relief jobs, or not. If you include government jobs, FDR looks a lot better than if you don't. Liberals, unsurprisingly, favor including them, while conservatives, unsurprisingly, favor leaving them out.
Because, you see, if you pay people to perform tasks that do not directly profit individuals or corporations then you're a commie rapist who drowns puppies. Consultants are also permanently unemployed, because their jobs also don't last indefinitely. Everyone in the construction industry is permanently unemployed.
Whether you should count relief jobs as part of the unemployment figure really depends on what you're trying to measure. If you're trying to measure something about the worker experience, it makes sense to count relief jobs: they go there and they pick up a paycheck. But if you're trying to measure how robust the economy is, you shouldn't measure those jobs, because relief jobs do not vary in the same way as the underlying job market.
Yup, just because the "workers" at these non-jobs show up, perform tasks, then get a paycheck doesn't mean they're working at jobs. Unless that task is growing the capital of some investor IT DOESN'T COUNT. The purpose of unemployment figures is to help employers set wages, not to give us, as a society, some sense of how many people are unemployed. Fuck those little people, we're talking about rich folk, here.
This is, I must point out, not an argument about whether relief jobs are good or not--I certainly think they're preferable to other interventions, like long term welfare. It's just an argument about what about the economy the unemployment rate is supposed to be a proxy for. But we have other figures that already measure peoples' material conditions pretty well--the poverty level, f'rinstance. On the other hand, we don't have any very good figure to tell us the strength of the private labor market.
You stupid asshole. You stupid, stupid asshole. No, it actually is an argument about whether "relief jobs are good or not", Megan, but you know you'd lose that argument so you dance around the issue. Her job is to muddy the waters, not to prove anything.
Here's my core problem with including relief jobs in the unemployment rate: the unemployment figures start telling you as much about the political situation as the underlying economy. The government can push the unemployment level down to nearly any arbitrary level it wants by putting anyone without a job on the dole and making them do some not-very-valuable task in order to cash their check.
And the money from that check still goes back into the economy when spent, even in this strawbaby scenario. Megan thinks all government jobs are no-show positions, apparently, and that the roads and bridges and tunnels across the nation that need rebuilding and other long postponed maintenance can't be fixed, because the government can't actually put anyone to "work" doing so.
But ultimately, the health of the economy relies on the ability of the private sector to generate growth, and the private sector to generate jobs. It's the tax revenue from that growth, those jobs, that allow the government to create government jobs. In the short term, the government can borrow and spend, but if the private sector and the labor market are not growing, eventually lenders will get worried about the ability to repay and raise the interest rates they charge. Result: well, there are a lot of deposed Latin American heads of state who could describe the result in some very vivid language.
Since we haven't experienced anything like that in the US recently as a result of policies Megan supported, we should listen to her. And remember, the government has never created a job, ever, public or private. Only businesses can do that, cuz of Michael Steele said so.
If we include relief jobs in the unemployment figures, we lose track of the strength of the underlying private labor market that has to ultimately support those jobs.
If we make the numbers accurate, they no longer reflect something they were never intended to reflect.
Regardless of what the government does, our economy will not have recovered from the current mess until the private markets start growing again. The government spending may (or may not) be a good way to alleviate the pain of a weak labor market, but unless either the economy recovers on its own, or the massive stimulus shocks it back into full output, the stimulus will eventually have to be cut back, and we'll be back into the bad old equilibrium with a lot of extra debt payments making us even poorer. It behooves us, then, to keep a closer eye on the underlying figure than on what the government is doing in the short term.
The fact that the stimulus might not work is the reason for leaving a key part of its effects out of the unemployment number that most Americans will look to as a crucial measure of whether we're recovering. If we're honest about the effects of the stimulus Megan will look bad for irrationally opposing it, and that's unpossible.
And that's approximately the place the US found itself in at the end of the 1930s, with unemployment back up to 19% after falling into the low teens. The underlying economy was not sound. Perhaps the liberals are right and the problem is that FDR didn't spend enough--but that is a hypothetical. What we know is that the US economy was still in shockingly bad repair until World War II turned it around.
You see, undoing a large amount of the damage from the Crash doesn't count as progress, especially if you pretend 1937 wasn't an outlier for specific reasons involving Megan's ilk getting their way again briefly, so the New Deal was still a total failure that should in no way be looked to for inspiration in how to respond to the challenges we face today. Instead, we should totally start a war, cuz those are always good for the economy.

Sign of the Times:
Wal-Mart's earnings fell 7.4% in the fourth quarter. This makes analysts happy, because they topped expectations, and a 2.8% increase in domestic same-store sales looks positively magnificent next to the anemic results at most retailers--much of the decline stems from the costs of settling wage lawsuits.
Fucking plebs.

I meant to get a bit further in catching up, but it's time for me to begin my evening. So much stupid, so little time.


Malaclypse said...

Look, if Megan is an expert at anything, it is make-work, no-show jobs. If the government starts making these jobs available, next thing you know, these people will be blogging at the Atlantic at a fraction of Megan's cost.

Marshall said...

I kind of get her argument about figuring out. . . no the more I think about it the less sense it makes. Why does she get so worked up about stuff like this. I mean if you take her argument to its logical conclusion then you would have to take out people who work for defense contractors because the demand that creates their job isn't "natural".

Anyway natural and nature are weasel words if I've ever heard one.

Andrew said...

She's trying to assert that if a million people buy a Big Mac, that's "natural demand", but if a million people vote for a candidate, and the candidate uses taxes to build a sewer system, then that's "not natural".

In other words, to delegitimise the very concept of democratic politics.

Dhalgren said...

If the government starts making these jobs available, next thing you know, these people will be blogging at the Atlantic at a fraction of Megan's cost.

I'm going to pull a number out of my ass here, but if Megan makes $5,000 per talk, then I guess her salary at The Atlantic is in the $80K range.

clever pseudonym said...

No way. The salary for an average print journalist with 20+ years training and experience is just below the 60K mark. Someone with Megan's background probably makes around 30-40K tops. Since they've given her the bogus title of "Associate Editor," I'd wager it's perhaps even less

Dhalgren said...

Considering I was compensated $85K per year to help Lehman buy stuff, I don't feel so bad.

Malaclypse said...

The salary for an average print journalist with 20+ years training and experience is just below the 60K mark. Someone with Megan's background probably makes around 30-40K tops.

Matt decided to let us know what he makes today:

In reality, the median household income in the United States was $50,233 in 2007. That’s non-trivially less than I earn.

So I'm guessing Megan is in the 60-80K range, like Dhalgran ballparked.