CRF Blog

John Maynard Keynes Is the Economist the World Needs Now

by Bill Hayes

In John Maynard Keynes Is the Economist the World Needs Now, a feature story for Bloomberg Businessweek, Peter Coy argues that the late British economist needs to be heeded.

There is a doctor in the house, and his prescriptions are more relevant than ever. True, he’s been dead since 1946. But even in the past tense, the British economist, investor, and civil servant John Maynard Keynes has more to teach us about how to save the global economy than an army of modern Ph.D.s equipped with models of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium. The symptoms of the Great Depression that he correctly diagnosed are back, though fortunately on a smaller scale: chronic unemployment, deflation, currency wars, and beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies.

An essential and enduring insight of Keynes is that what works for a single family in hard times will not work for the global economy. One family whose breadwinner loses a job can and should cut back on spending to make ends meet. But everyone can’t do it at once when there’s generalized weakness because one person’s spending is another’s income. The more people cut back spending to increase their savings, the more the people they used to pay are forced to cut back their own spending, and so on in a downward spiral known as the Paradox of Thrift. Income shrinks so fast that savings fall instead of rise. The result: mass unemployment.

Keynes said that when companies don’t want to invest and consumers don’t want to spend, government must break the dangerous cycle by stepping up its own spending or cutting taxes, either of which will put more money in people’s pockets. That is not, contrary to some of his critics, a recipe for ever-expanding government: Keynes said governments should run surpluses during boom times to pay off their debts and soak up excessive private demand. [more]

For a free classroom lesson on economist John Maynard Keynes, see John Maynard Keynes and the Revolution in Economic Thought from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

21 maps and charts that explain the obesity epidemic

by Bill Hayes

In a special map section, Vox presents 21 maps and charts that explain the obesity epidemic.  Below is one of the 21 maps.

In every state, at least one-fifth of adults are obese

In the Southern and Midwestern parts of the country, the problem is even more acute, and Mississippi and West Virginia have the highest obesity rates in the country at over 35 percent. Only seven states — Massachusetts, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont, Montana, Utah, California — and the District of Columbia have obesity rates below a quarter. Colorado was the least obese state, with a prevalence of 21.3 percent, followed by Hawaii at 21.8 percent.

 

obesity_map_5_america.0

How Parody Videos Transformed Pop Music — for Better and Worse

by Bill Hayes

In How Parody Videos Transformed Pop Music — for Better and Worse for the New Republic, David Hajdu traces the legal and cultural history of pop parody songs.

Fifty years ago this October, the Supreme Court cleared the road to the world that the pop-music audience occupies today, a place where ridicule is the lingua franca and everything is made to seem ridiculous. It’s a world where popular songs exist for the making of parody videos and “Weird Al” Yankovic, somehow, suddenly, looks like a visionary.

The case that came before the high court in 1964 was Berlin v. E. C. Publications, Inc., a dispute over the underlying rights to the contents of a collection of song parodies produced by the editors of Mad magazine. Published as a trade paperback in 1961 under the title More Trash from Mad — it was the fourth volume of repackaged Mad magazine contents — the book had gag lyrics to show tunes and Tin Pan Alley hits popular among the New Frontier adults whom Mad took snickering adolescent glee in mocking. The writers of this joke songbook, Frank Jacobs and Larry Siegel (with help from a few other Mad contributors), had taken fifty-seven warhorse ditties and re-purposed them with topical angles. Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” became a satire of Middle Eastern oil potentates, “Sheik to Sheik.” Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” turned into a spoof of hypochondria, “Louella Schwartz Describes Her Malady.” “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, became a lampoon of sports-star endorsements, “The First Time I Saw Maris.” Silly but neatly crafted, the take-off lyrics jabbed teasingly at the headlines and the anxieties of postwar society in a way that would seem tepidly old-fashioned to readers today but came across as wildly subversive to the kids and young adults who read Mad in the early 1960s. [more]

Teen’s death aboard party bus focuses attention on a booming industry

by Bill Hayes

In Teen’s death aboard party bus focuses attention on a booming industry, the Los Angeles Times reports on the regulation (or lack thereof) of the party-bus industry.

The number of party bus carriers nationwide has skyrocketed in the last five years — from 6,000 to 9,000 in California alone, records show — and more than 20 people have died in accidents. But most states have done little to regulate the industry, with efforts focusing mainly on alcohol use.

In Nebraska, passengers are allowed to drink on a party bus as long as the driver does not have access to alcohol. In New Jersey, passengers can drink, but the driver cannot provide the alcohol. And in Oklahoma, it is illegal for a hired bus or limousine service to knowingly transport minors in possession of alcohol.

One potential reform, safety experts and activists say, would be to address variations in how tall buses can be. [more]

What do Americans Worry About?

Infographic: Hacking Has Become Every American's Worst Nightmare | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Air Waves

by Bill Hayes

In Air Waves, Smithsonian magazine notes that net neutrality may be today’s battle over the Internet but a similar battle was fought over radio years ago.

The idea of transmitting sound waves through the air caught on especially after the experiments of the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi in the late 19th century. The technology wasn’t complicated, and by the first decade of the 20th century, American tinkerers began building their own sets to transmit and receive radio signals. With relatively small amounts of power, someone at home could broadcast for dozens of miles. Magazines printed schematics. “Any boy can own a real wireless station, if he really wants to,” urged The Book of Wireless.

Stations popped up everywhere — run in churches, fire departments and even businesses, when the owner bought a transmitter and started talking into the ether. Much like the first bloggers, early radio adopters were thrilled that they could reach a distant audience. They needed a new word for this; as Columbia law professor Tim Wu notes, they settled on “broadcasting,” which originally meant casting seeds in a field. “This was the first time in the history of mankind that people in different places heard the same thing at the same time,” notes Anthony Rudel, author of Hello, Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio. [more]

No Time for Lies

by Bill Hayes

In No Time for Lies for the New Yorker, James Wood looks at the works of Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower.

The Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower, who is eighty-six and lives in Sydney, has been decidedly opaque about why she withdrew her fifth novel, “In Certain Circles” (Text), some months prior to publication, in 1971. Her mother, to whom she was very close, had died suddenly the year before. Harrower told Susan Wyndham, who interviewed her a few months ago in the Sydney Morning Herald, that she was absolutely “frozen” by the bereavement. She also claims to remember very little about her novel — “That sounds quite interesting, but I don’t think I’ll read it” — and adds that she has been “very good at closing doors and ending things. . . . What was going on in my head or my life at the time? Fortunately, whatever it was I’ve forgotten.” Elsewhere, Harrower has cast doubt on the novel’s quality: “It was well written because once you can write, you can write a good book. But there are a lot of dead novels out in the world that don’t need to be written.”

Harrower deposited the manuscript of “In Certain Circles” in the National Library of Australia and essentially terminated her literary career. She has said that she thinks of her fiction as something abandoned long ago, buried in a cellar. She can’t now be bothered with writing. “I don’t know anybody who knows I’m a writer,” she said in 2012. In 1971, plenty of people knew Harrower was a writer. The novelist Christina Stead, for one, declared that Harrower’s “The Long Prospect” (1958) “has no equal in our writing.” But obscurity is a fast worker, when properly paid: by the early nineteen-nineties, all her novels were out of print. Patrick White, who urged Harrower to keep working, once inscribed a book to her with the injunction “To Elizabeth, luncher and diner extraordinaire. Sad you don’t also WRITE.”

Her work might still be out of print if Michael Heyward and Penny Hueston, a married couple who run the Australian publishing house Text, hadn’t decided to start republishing it in 2012. They began with Harrower’s greatest novel, “The Watch Tower” (1966) …. [more]

Charlie Rose interviews Paul Krugman

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose interviews economist Paul Krugman on his Rolling Stone cover story, “In Defense of Obama.”

Marriage equality in America

by David De La Torre

In So far, so fast, The Economist looks at how fast the U.S. arrived at marriage equality.

What happened? Social change so marked and rapid can come only from a confluence of causes, but the most important was probably a change in moral judgment. Moral disapproval underlay not just opposition to same-sex marriage, but also support for the whole panoply of laws and customs that have historically discriminated against gay people. As it waned, support for same-sex marriage waxed. By 2013, nearly 60% had no moral problem with same-sex relations. Given that America, like most places, has viewed homosexuality as wicked since more or less the beginning of time, approval by a wide majority represents a watershed not just in contemporary politics but also in cultural history. This reversal, even more than sentiment about marriage as such, was the seminal change in public opinion. No anti-gay policy is likely to withstand it.

But why, then, the change in public morality? One reason is demographic replacement: the deaths of anti-gay traditionalists and the emergence of a generation that grew up accepting homosexuality as a normal human variation. Their nonchalance is founded upon broadening acceptance of the proposition that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is generally innate and not inherently harmful. Yet a third reason, underlying both of the others, is that sexual minorities have emerged from the shadows into full public view. [more]

Mike

by Bill Hayes

In Mike for the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates reviews Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman.

The afterlife of a champion boxer recalls Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Even when the boxer manages to retire before he has been seriously injured, it is not unlikely that repeated blows to the head will have a long-term neurological effect, and the accumulative assaults of arduous training and hard-won fights will precipitate the natural deterioration of aging; it is certainly likely that the boxer has witnessed, or even caused, very ugly incidents in the lives of other boxers. As welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic once said, “You’re boxing, you’re not playing the piano.”

The boxer has journeyed to a netherworld of visceral, violent experience that most of us, observing from a distance, can have but the vaguest glimmer of comprehending; he has risked his life, he has injured others, as a gladiator in the service of entertaining crowds; when the auditing is done, often it is found that, after having made many millions of dollars for himself and others, the boxer is near-penniless, if not in debt to the IRS, and must declare bankruptcy (Joe Louis, Ray Robinson, Leon Spinks, Tommy Hearns, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson,* among others).

Ironic then, or perhaps inevitable, that the afterlife of the champion boxer so often replicates this tragic role in farcical form: recall Joe Louis, one of the greatest heavyweights in history, ending his career with two ignominious defeats at the hands of younger boxers and a brief interlude as a professional wrestler, then impersonating himself as a “greeter” in a Las Vegas casino. Arguably the greatest of heavyweight champions, unmatched in his prime for spectacular ring performances, Muhammad Ali too ended his career after a succession of humiliating and battering defeats, exploited by his manager Don King and badly in debt; in his visibly diminished state, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, and unable to speak, Ali is frequently displayed on public occasions, often in formal attire, face impassive as a mask.

Mike Tyson, at twenty the youngest heavyweight champion in history, and in the early, vertiginous years of his career a worthy successor to Ali, Louis, and Jack Johnson, has managed to reconstitute himself after he retired from boxing in 2005 (when he abruptly quit before the seventh round of a fight with the undistinguished boxer Kevin McBride). He became a bizarre replica of the original Iron Mike, subject of a video game, cartoons, and comic books; a cocaine-fueled caricature of himself in the crude Hangover films; star of a one-man Broadway show directed by Spike Lee, titled Undisputed Truth, and the HBO film adaptation of that show; and now the author, with collaborator Larry Sloman, of the memoir Undisputed Truth. [more]

Death by Deadline, Part One

by Bill Hayes

In Death by Deadline, Part One for the Marshall Project, Ken Armstrong looks at “how bad lawyering and an unforgiving law cost condemned men their last appeal.”

In 1992, Kenneth Rouse, an African-American man with an IQ between 70 and 80 — “borderline intellectual functioning,” in the clinical parlance — prepared to stand trial in North Carolina on charges that he had robbed, murdered and attempted to rape a white, 63-year-old store clerk.

Rouse’s lawyers questioned the prospective jurors to try to expose any racial or other bias they might have against the defendant. But several years after the all-white jury convicted Rouse and recommended a death sentence, his defense team made a stunning discovery.

One of the jurors, Joseph S. Baynard, admitted that his mother had been robbed, murdered and possibly raped years before. Baynard had not disclosed this history, he said, so that he could sit in judgment of Rouse, whom he called “one step above a moron.” Baynard added that he thought black men … raped white women for bragging rights.

As claims of juror bias go, the evidence could hardly have been stronger. But Rouse’s final appeal was never heard. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Rouse’s lawyers had just one year after his initial state appeal to petition for a last-resort hearing in federal court.

They missed the deadline by a single day.

A federal appeals judge wrote that it was “unconscionable” for her court to reject Rouse’s case because of such a mistake by his court-appointed lawyers. But dozens of lawyers have made the same mistake, and most of their clients, like Rouse, have not been forgiven by the courts for missing the deadline.

An investigation by The Marshall Project shows that since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law — enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America — the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed — the most recent on Thursday, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida.

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. “The Great Writ,” as it is often called (in Latin it means “you have the body”), habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law.

For example, of the 12 condemned prisoners who have left death row in Texas after being exonerated since 1987, five of them were spared in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In California, 49 of the 81 inmates who had completed their federal habeas appeals by earlier this year have had their death sentences vacated.

The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims. Some of them challenged the evidence of their guilt, and others the fairness of their sentences. One Mississippi inmate was found guilty partly on the basis of a forensic hair analysis that the FBI now admits was flawed. A prisoner in Florida was convicted with a type of ballistics evidence that has long since been discredited. [more]

Backgrounder on The Chinese Communist Party

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on The Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the founding and ruling political party of modern China, boasting more than eighty-six million members. In 2012, the CCP underwent a pivotal once-in-a-decade power transition that saw its fifth generation of leaders set the future agenda for the second-largest economy in the world. While the party has maintained a political monopoly since its founding, the effects of China’s rapid economic growth have triggered increasing social unrest and political destabilization that challenge the country’s rise as a global power. A spate of political scandals has also exposed deep power struggles inside the infamously opaque organization. The changeover has done little to affect immediate party policy and direction, however the implications of new leadership sheds some light on how China plans to position itself on the world stage.

Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the CCP was founded in 1921 on the principles of Marxism-Leninism following a lengthy civil war against the Kuomintang, its primary rival. Despite China’s market reforms in the late 1970s, the modern Chinese state remains a purely Leninist system, like those of Cuba, North Korea, and Laos. The party’s grip on power relies on three pillars: control of personnel, propaganda, and the People’s Liberation Army. Around 77 percent of its members are men, and farmers make up roughly one-third of its membership.

The CCP convenes its National Party Congress (NPC) every five years to set major policies and choose the Central Committee, which comprises around 370 members including ministers, senior regulatory officials, provincial leaders, and military officers. The Central Committee acts as a sort of board of directors for the CCP, and its mandate is to select the Politburo, which has twenty-five members. [more]

The new Cold War on Business

by Bill Hayes

In The new Cold War on Business for Fortune magazine, Ian Bremmer argues that China and Russia are changing the terms of doing business in the world.

[P]olitical shifts in China and Russia drive an emerging Cold War on business. China and Russia are intruding into the marketplace on a scale unseen since “globalization” became a buzzword. Beijing has initiated state investigations into dozens of Fortune 500 companies for “monopolistic activity.” In Russia, ratcheting up sanctions over the escalating Ukraine conflict has prompted a frantic unwinding of U.S. business ties. Capital flight from Russia hit $75 billion in the first half of this year, outpacing all of 2013. Moscow has banned food exports from the West and floated legislation that would allow the seizure of foreign assets.

Western companies benefit from a globalized marketplace backstopped by universal values that allows them to improve supply chains and reach new customers. They are engineered to compete with other corporations, not governments. Clashing states will force many companies to make painful choices about how they do business — and where. [more]

Best Books … chosen by Bob Odenkirk

by Bill Hayes

In The Week’s Book List, actor, director, comedy writer (and the lawyer Saul on Breaking Bad) Bob Odenkirk lists his 6 favorite books:

The Dog of the South by Charles Portis …. A hilarious narrator goes on a loony mission to catch up with his runaway wife, following the trail of credit card receipts she leaves from Arkansas to Belize. He’s driven by resentment and pettiness — and yet he is also clearly entertained by the world around him. This is, to me, a very American voice. [more]

The Case for and Against China

by Bill Hayes

In The Case for and Against China, Bloomberg Businessweek looks at the debate among economists about China’s economic future.

In The Long Soft Fall in Chinese Growth, published on Oct. 20 by the Conference Board, China managing director David Hoffman and economist Andrew Polk write that the economy will stagnate as policymakers drag their feet on needed changes. The business group predicts annual growth in China’s gross domestic product will fall to 4 percent by 2020. The New York-based Asia Society Policy Institute expects China to expand 6 percent that year — not as robust as in the past, but still pretty fast. In its study, Avoiding the Blind Alley, released on Oct. 22, the Society cites progress in China’s reforms. Both reports appeared the week China announced third-quarter GDP grew 7.3 percent, the slowest rate in five years. [more]

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