Wednesday , June 16 2021
Home / Eric Kramer

Eric Kramer



Articles by Eric Kramer

Douthat: democracy, whatever

6 days ago

Ross Douthat is evidently having trouble filling his column quota.  Or maybe he’s just confused about the role of public intellectuals and the nature of rational decision making.

In two recent columns, Douthat suggests that Democrats are excessively worried about Republican attacks on voting and election and should just chill out.  He defends this “what, me worry?” approach to politics in two ways.  First, he argues that there is so much uncertainty about how the future will unfold that Democrats and Republicans who want to preserve democracy do not have a clear strategy to pursue. 

This is the point when I’m supposed to tell you which of these three approaches will actually Stop Trump and which will ignominiously fail. But the frustrating truth

Read More »

Why does McConnell favor a criminal investigation into the events of January 6th?

19 days ago

Josh Marshall nails it (paywalled, but here’s part of his argument):

Published reports suggest – and it is no surprise that this is the case – that the DOJ investigations are not looking deeply into the causes of the January 6th insurrection, causes which are inherently political and tied to numerous public officials and electoral politics. They’re going to look at the specific people who broke into the Capitol. They’re going to look at organized groups that may have planned the acts of violence in advance. This may net various Proud Boys or Three Percenter groups. It may even net a particularly zany member of Congress. Those people deserve to face legal accountability for their actions.But there will be much less scrutiny into why the whole thing

Read More »

What’s going on with covid death rates by age?

25 days ago

I assume/hope there’s a non-scary answer to this question, but I don’t have time to figure it out, so I’ll just throw it out here . . .

From the NYT today:

How can cases and deaths have declined by the same amount since January, given that older and more vulnerable people have been disproportionately vaccinated? Has the infection fatality rate risen among the young? Is this just an artifact of timing, lags, and maybe the choice of start date? Or . . . ?

Read More »

Grading the U.S. response to the pandemic

27 days ago

How should we grade our collective response to the covid pandemic?  What lessons should we draw for the future? 

I believe that our response was poor.  To see why, just imagine where we would be today if effective vaccines had not been developed.  Our current strategy of moderate social distancing, intermittent partial lockdowns, and economic assistance for businesses and the unemployed would not have been sustainable for another 1 or 2 years as the covid virus slowly burned its way through an unvaccinated population.  We would inevitably have shifted to a different approach – very likely a de facto “herd immunity” strategy that lets the virus rip. Perhaps we would have offered some additional protections to the most vulnerable, but I doubt it.

Read More »

Equi-realism about carbon pricing and other approaches to global warming favors a failsafe approach to regulation

29 days ago

Unfortunately, carbon pricing does not seem to be on the agenda of either the Biden administration or progressive advocates of an aggressive policy response to climate change.  In part this neglect reflects ideological bias against market-based approaches to regulation and in favor of methods that are more direct in their effects.  But it also reflects hard-headed political considerations.  Carbon pricing is unpopular because it makes energy more expensive, and because it threatens fossil fuel jobs directly, but creates clean energy jobs only indirectly, in ways that are difficult to attribute to the policy itself.  As a result, carbon pricing is hard to get enacted, when it is enacted it is often subverted and ineffective (because the carbon price

Read More »

Once more on vaccine hesitancy

May 12, 2021

Let me follow up briefly on my post from yesterday on vaccine hesitancy.

Demeaning people is the first step towards ignoring their interests or even persecuting them.  Jason Brennan urges us to ignore the welfare of the unvaxxed by painting a picture of them as moral terrorists or extortionists.  He holds them responsible for their confusion and fears.  He pretends that everyone is well-informed and knows how to evaluate scientific evidence, and that everyone has loads of time to keep up on the latest covid news.  Then he blames people who fail to get vaccinated for their poor choices. 

These are the key facts, as I see the matter:

Many people are not vaccinated, vaccination rates are slowing, rates of hesitancy are high.Most unvaccinated

Read More »

What do we owe to the vaccine-hesitant?

May 9, 2021

In a recent post, libertarian political philosopher Jason Brennan argues that “we should ignore the welfare of people who choose not to vaccinate out of paranoia”.  We owe them nothing.  Brennan reaches this conclusion by analogizing vaccine hesitancy to a heckler’s veto (my bold):

The idea of heckler’s veto goes as follows: Take any action, P, which is permissible. Now imagine that a person makes a credible threat to do something wrongful or bad if you choose to do P. Do you thereby acquire a duty not to P? For instance, if the bully says that he’ll beat someone else unless you break up with your girlfriend, do you have a duty to break up? If the evil government official says that he will persecute other people unless you quit your religion and

Read More »

Still skating in front of the breaking ice

May 6, 2021

A couple of months ago I drafted up a post arguing that Trump was becoming yesterday’s news.  He was off Twitter and Facebook, and responsible for a highly unpopular attack on Congress.  Stripped of the powers of the presidency he would be forced to spend his time whining about the election and playing victim.  The insurrection would give Republican officeholders the excuse they needed to distance themselves from Trump.  (I certainly was not alone here; McConnell seemed to think this as well.)  Gradually, Trump would come to be seen as an impotent failure.

This could still happen, but at this point it seems likely that I was wrong.  I am surprised at the way Republicans are rallying around Trump and attacking Liz Cheney. 

What does this mean for

Read More »

Voter fraud in black and white

May 4, 2021

The battle to save democracy continues.

White man commits intentional voter fraud:

A Marple Township man who illegally registered his dead mother as a Republican and cast a vote on her behalf in the 2020 presidential election has been sentenced to five years of probation, Delaware County prosecutors said.Bruce Bartman, 70, pleaded guilty to felony counts of perjury and unlawful voting last December after investigators discovered he had successfully cast a mail-in ballot for his mother, who died 12 years ago. He also attempted to obtain a mail-in ballot for his dead mother-in-law, but the request was flagged by state officials. Bartman used an old driver’s license number to request the mail-in ballot for his mother and sneak through

Read More »

The politics of research: parental incarceration and child welfare

May 3, 2021

The American Economic Review is publishing an article by Samuel Norris, Matthew Pecenco, and Jeffrey Weaver that suggests parental incarceration has benefits for children:

Every year, millions of Americans experience the incarceration of a family member. Using 30 years of administrative data from Ohio and exploiting differing incarceration propensities of randomly assigned judges, this paper provides the first quasi-experimental estimates of the effects of parental and sibling incarceration in the US. Parental incarceration has beneficial effects on some important outcomes for children, reducing their likelihood of incarceration by 4.9 percentage points and improving their adult neighborhood quality. While estimates on academic performance and teen

Read More »

The politics of vaccine-stretching

April 19, 2021

When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were first approved, it was clear that they were highly effective at preventing covid and that they would be in short supply for months.  The clinical trial data also suggested that, at least in the short-run, one dose of the vaccines would provide almost as much protection against covid as the two-dose protocol that was tested and approved by the FDA. 

This led a number of economists and public health professionals to argue that we could gain an edge in the fight against covid – and likely save tens of thousands of lives – by prioritizing first doses and delaying second doses (“first doses first”).  We could also stretch existing supplies by giving people half-doses, and by giving one dose to people who have

Read More »

Summers ignores politics, unfairly blames progressives

March 21, 2021

Larry Summer is still criticizing the American Recovery Plan.  Summers:

In his latest attack on the recent rush of stimulus, Summers told David Westin on Bloomberg Television’s “Wall Street Week” that “what was kindling, is now igniting” given the recovery from Covid will stoke demand pressure at the same time as fiscal policy has been aggressively eased and the Federal Reserve has “stuck to its guns” in committing to loose monetary policy.“These are the least responsible fiscal macroeconomic policy we’ve have had for the last 40 years,” Summers said. “It’s fundamentally driven by intransigence on the Democratic left and intransigence and the completely irresponsible behavior in the whole of the Republican Party.”Summers, a top official in the past

Read More »

Good decision, big institutional problem on minimum wage work-around

March 2, 2021

From WAPO:

Senior Democrats are abandoning a backup plan to increase the minimum wage through a corporate tax penalty, after encountering numerous practical and political challenges in drafting their proposal over the weekend, according to two people familiar with the internal deliberations. . . .

Economists and tax experts have said that the tax outlined by Sanders and Wyden could be easily avoided and difficult to implement, with large corporations able to reclassify workers as contractors to avoid potential penalties. “I would be extremely nervous about trying out a brand new idea like this with virtually no vetting,” Jason Furman, a former Obama administration economist, said on Twitter on Friday.

The good news here is that the Democrats

Read More »

Let’s take a big, second bite at the mass testing apple

February 14, 2021

We made many mistakes in our response to the coronavirus over the past year.  One of the most critical was our failure to massively expand our capacity to produce coronavirus tests and masks and other PPE.  As many economists including Paul Romer noted last spring, mass testing and wide distribution of high quality masks would probably have allowed us to crush the virus and return to something close to normal life even in the absence of a vaccine.  Given that it was far from clear when or even if an effective vaccine would arrive, a large investment in mass testing and PPE production seemed like a no-brainer, but we didn’t do it.  This was one of the most serious and easily avoidable errors in our covid response. 

But what about now?  President

Read More »

Economic insecurity, redux

February 14, 2021

Several comments on my last post on the economic difficulties of the people who attacked the Capitol took aim at their characters in one way or another.

I certainly do not want to defend the Capitol invaders in any way.  I think they should be vigorously prosecuted.  However, it is critically important to step back from the violent horror of the assault and think strategically about how we can use public policy to reduce the risk of political violence and democratic failure.  And that means thinking about conditions that influence people, not simply focusing on their character defects (they’re stupid, they’re selfish, they’re racist, etc.).  Whatever character flaws the insurrectionists have, they or others like them will have the same flaws next

Read More »

Score one for the economic insecurity theory of Trump . . .

February 11, 2021

From the WAPO:

Despite her outward signs of success, Ryan had struggled financially for years. She was still paying off a $37,000 lien for unpaid federal taxes when she was arrested. She’d nearly lost her home to foreclosure before that. She filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and faced another IRS tax lien in 2010.

Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories.

The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as

Read More »

Score one for the economic insecurity theory of Trump . . .

February 11, 2021

From the WAPO:

Despite her outward signs of success, Ryan had struggled financially for years. She was still paying off a $37,000 lien for unpaid federal taxes when she was arrested. She’d nearly lost her home to foreclosure before that. She filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and faced another IRS tax lien in 2010.

Nearly 60 percent of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to a Washington Post analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories.

The group’s bankruptcy rate — 18 percent — was nearly twice as high as

Read More »

Three cheers for child benefits!

February 11, 2021

Let’s discuss something worth getting really excited about, the Biden/Romney child tax credit/child allowance proposals.  These proposals would make life much better for poor children and their parents.  A lot better.  Neither proposal goes as far as I would like, but they would be a real improvement and could be made more generous over time.

I will briefly describe the proposals and then discuss the political changes that may have paved the way for a major shift in social policy.

What the proposals do

To see just how exciting these proposals are, it helps to remember what is wrong with our current system of support for families with children, which is centered on a partly refundable Child Tax Credit (actually, two credits) and the Earned

Read More »

Three cheers for child benefits!

February 11, 2021

Let’s discuss something worth getting really excited about, the Biden/Romney child tax credit/child allowance proposals.  These proposals would make life much better for poor children and their parents.  A lot better.  Neither proposal goes as far as I would like, but they would be a real improvement and could be made more generous over time.

I will briefly describe the proposals and then discuss the political changes that may have paved the way for a major shift in social policy.

What the proposals do

To see just how exciting these proposals are, it helps to remember what is wrong with our current system of support for families with children, which is centered on a partly refundable Child Tax Credit (actually, two credits) and the Earned

Read More »

Information or propaganda? More Cowen on minimum wages

February 9, 2021

Today Tyler Cowen posted this:

Remember the proposals for a $15 federal minimum wage?

Employment would be reduced by 1.4 million workers, or 0.9 percent, according to CBO’s average estimate…

That is from the new CBO report.

Here is a bit more context:

In an average week in 2025, the year when the minimum wage would reach $15 per hour, 17 million workers whose wages would otherwise be below $15 per hour would be directly affected, and many of the 10 million workers whose wages would otherwise be slightly abovethat wage rate would also be affected. At that time, the effects on workers and their families would include the following:Employment would be reduced by 1.4 million workers, or 0.9 percent, according to CBO’s average estimate;

Read More »

Information or propaganda? More Cowen on minimum wages

February 9, 2021

Today Tyler Cowen posted this:

Remember the proposals for a $15 federal minimum wage?

Employment would be reduced by 1.4 million workers, or 0.9 percent, according to CBO’s average estimate…

That is from the new CBO report.

Here is a bit more context:

In an average week in 2025, the year when the minimum wage would reach $15 per hour, 17 million workers whose wages would otherwise be below $15 per hour would be directly affected, and many of the 10 million workers whose wages would otherwise be slightly abovethat wage rate would also be affected. At that time, the effects on workers and their families would include the following:Employment would be reduced by 1.4 million workers, or 0.9 percent, according to CBO’s average estimate;

Read More »

Tyler Cowen does political romance on minimum wages and covid relief

February 8, 2021

James Buchanan, one of the most influential free-market conservatives of the past half century, chastised liberals (progressives) for being romantic about politics.  His work on Public Choice Theory urged us to look at “politics without romance”.

Buchanan was right.  Being overly romantic about politics can lead to serious error, but this error is by no means limited to liberals. 

Case in point:  Tyler Cowen has recently been criticizing Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and the $1.9 trillion covid relief/stimulus package proposed by President Biden.  In both cases, he treats complicated questions of political strategy as if they were blackboard exercises in economic theory, totally ignoring politics.

Let’s start

Read More »

Tyler Cowen does political romance on minimum wages and covid relief

February 8, 2021

James Buchanan, one of the most influential free-market conservatives of the past half century, chastised liberals (progressives) for being romantic about politics.  His work on Public Choice Theory urged us to look at “politics without romance”.

Buchanan was right.  Being overly romantic about politics can lead to serious error, but this error is by no means limited to liberals. 

Case in point:  Tyler Cowen has recently been criticizing Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and the $1.9 trillion covid relief/stimulus package proposed by President Biden.  In both cases, he treats complicated questions of political strategy as if they were blackboard exercises in economic theory, totally ignoring politics.

Let’s start

Read More »

Trump on his own terms

January 20, 2021

David Hopkins has an interesting take on the failure of Trump’s presidency:

Regardless of these challenges, the general verdict on Trump among historians and political scientists, reporters and commentators, and most of the Washington political community (including, at least privately, many Republicans) is guaranteed to range from disappointment and mockery to outright declarations that he was the worst president in American history. And there is little reason to expect that the information yet to emerge about the internal operations of the Trump administration will improve his reputation in the future. Instead, it’s far more likely that there are stories still to be told about the events of the last four years that history will find just as

Read More »

Libertarian David Henderson on Trump

January 9, 2021

Yesterday, David Henderson, a libertarian economist associated with Hoover and econlib, had a post at econlib suggesting that Trump has been unfairly accused of fomenting violence.  I was going to stick a link to Henderson’s piece in the comments to my earlier post on the libertarian reaction to storming of the Capitol.  But when I looked this morning, the post was gone.  I believe this has happened before with Henderson (I am almost certain this has happened at econlib, I am not sure the author was Henderson, but I believe it was him). 

In any event, the now missing post was captured by my blog reader, and I thought I’d share Henderson’s disingenuous, obtuse, narrow, decontextualized, and legalistic defense of Donald Trump here for the record.

Read More »

Double standards in policing

January 8, 2021

Many have noted, correctly, that there is a clear double standard in how the police treated the right-wing protesters at the Capitol on Wednesday and how they treated Black Lives Matter demonstrators this summer.  This is indeed a huge problem and I hope to comment further on it soon.  Here I simply want to point out a second double standard that has not to my knowledge received attention:  the quick, forceful response of legislators to the breakdown of law and order at the Capitol, compared to the generally dilatory efforts at police reform this summer. 

Police reform advocates should press the Democrats hard to move police reform legislation quickly in the new Congress.  As things stand now, there are two standards for police reform.  A strict

Read More »

Libertarians: Hey look, it’s Haley’s comet!

January 8, 2021

How are libertarian lovers of liberty responding to the assault on democracy and the rule of law that took place in the Capitol Wednesday?

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen speaks out eloquently against Trump’s anti-democratic behavior.  Just kidding!  In a post entitled “That was then, this is now” Cowen reminds us about the terrorist attack on Congress by Puerto Rican nationalists in 1954.  But there is no analogy between a terrorist attack by a politically powerless minority (as bad as that is) and a mob attempting to subvert American democracy at the behest of a sitting President who just lost an election.  No analogy at all.

Cowen also has a post bemoaning the failure of the Capitol police to secure Congress, and a post quibbling

Read More »

Impeachment now?

January 7, 2021

What about impeachment?  There is no question that Congress can impeach Trump for his role in encouraging today’s assault on Congress.  What are the arguments for and against? 

For impeachment:

There is a real possibility that Trump will do something dangerous in the final days of his presidency.

If he is impeached and convicted, he could be barred from running for President again. 

Presumably impeaching him would have some precedential / deterrent value going forward.

Against impeachment:

A politically divisive impeachment would divert attention from Trump’s now oh-so-evident wrongdoing and breath new life into the grievance narrative that motivates him and his base.  It could bolster his political support.  It could also fail.

Read More »

Why resign?

January 7, 2021

Several White House aides and policymakers have resigned in the past 24 hours.  Frankly, I don’t get it. 

First, it’s way too late to salvage your reputation.  Second, at this point you can (arguably) do more to protect your reputation by saying that you are staying to prevent Trump from doing something crazy in the final days of his presidency.

Read More »

The events at the Capitol

January 7, 2021

The events at the capitol today are horrifying, and to many of us seem like the natural outcome of Trumpism and the morally degenerate enabling of the Republican party.  But the events today may well end up strengthening our democracy.

I suspect that Trump has badly overplayed his hand.  The images of thugs running loose through the capital will horrify a significant part of Trump’s law and order base.  In the court of public opinion, this will be worse than Charlottesville.  His appeal for peace emphasizing his election grievances will not help much; it was the least he could have done, another Trump hostage video.  

Trump will also lose at least some support from Republican pols.  This was bound to happen anyway, but today’s events will

Read More »