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Archive for August, 2010

Five-Year Blogaversary

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on August 31, 2010

This month marked the fifth anniversary of when I began blogging–August 2005. I first started blogging at Mankind Minus One, a group blog set up by some of my friends from high school. Although that site no longer exists, you can visit Mankind Minus One using the Wayback Machine, by typing <; (without the brackets) into the Internet Archive, or see here. Technically, my first post on that site was a meandering piece introducing myself, written on August 24. 2005, which can be seen if you scroll to the bottom here. My first real post was a short article about the anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, on August 25, 2005 (exactly five years ago last Wednesday). After Mankind Minus One disbanded, I moved my posts here, to Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem, in January 2007, and began blogging on my own. Although I have rarely kept to my intended schedule of posting at least once per week, I have greatly enjoyed having a place to share my opinions and analysis with the world. I will now briefly look back on some of the highlights of my blogging career.

Tyler Cowen once wrote (I can’t find a link)  that good blogs have recurring features, like a regular “cast of characters”. Although I haven’t been anywhere near as prolific a blogger as Tyler, I have tried to follow his advice in this respect. My recurring features include the not-quite-weekly “Remark of the Week” series, longish posts of assorted links called “Festival of Links”, and the occasional “No Hiding Place”, wherein I highlight the misfortunes of corrupt politicians and other public figures. If you see an example of the creative use of technology in a developing country, be sure to share it with me in an email or comment so I can blog about it in my (so far abortive) continuing series called “Lasers in the Jungle Watch“.

An entry from early in my blogging career of which I am particularly proud is my post about George W. Bush nominating Ben Bernanke to replace then-Fed chairman Alan Greenspan (see also here). Although at the time Mankind Minus One did not have a huge readership, I was one of the first on the blogosphere to post this story, and perhaps the first to include the commentary that the nomination of Bernanke carried none of the stench of Bush’s (eventually withdrawn) nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. For this timeliness, my post was cited by the (now apparently defunct) BlogPulse Newswire, a metablog that highlighted important topics and breaking stories discussed on other blogs.

I am also still proud of my two entries (written about a year into my solo blogging career) contrasting the politics and rhetoric of two prominent economists, Paul Krugman and Herbert Gintis (see here and here). Although the conventional wisdom would hold that Gintis is farther to the left than Krugman, I sided with Gintis after he wrote a negative review of Krugman’s book, The Conscience of a Liberal. In that review, Gintis critiqued Krguman’s advocacy of extreme partisanship, writing, “This book epitomizes what is wrong with American liberalism.” While I admire Krugman’s contributions to the theories of international trade and economic geography, when opining on political matters, Krugman is just as shrill and vapid as the right-wing talking heads–like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck–that he so much despises. Gintis, on the other hand, has a deep and abiding conviction that we must study social problems scientifically–from many angles, approaches, and viewpoints–in order to glean truths that will help us to ameliorate or solve those problems. My trend of attacking Paul Krugman has continued more recently, in my post defending Congressman Paul Ryan from Krugman’s (and Andrew Sullivan’s) charges of being a “fraud”. (And lest my Obamaphile friends forget, Krugman was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, he maintains that Hillary lost due to sexism and media conspiracy, and he remains, in many ways, an opponent of President Obama, albeit from the left.)

Speaking of Glenn Beck, by far the most viewed post in the entirety of my solo blogging career is the one in which I discuss William Shatner’s political views, as revealed in an interview with Beck on Headline News (back when Beck worked for CNN). I was fortunate enough to watch a re-broadcast of that interview while staying in a hotel room in DC a little more than two years ago. Shatner, the Emmy-award-winning actor who portrayed the protagonists of Boston Legal and the original Star Trek, holds a set of nuanced but unusual political opinions, and while Beck sometimes tried to steer the interview towards his personal talking points, their exchanges were unique and revealing. I found an online transcript of the interview, and filed it away for a few months until I had time to blog about it. Fortunately for me, when I finally blogged about that interview, Shatner’s autobiography Up Till Now had recently been released, and Beck was moving his self-titled show to the Fox News Channel. Even more fortunately, the stars of Shatner and Beck have only risen since then, as Shatner’s autobiography was a best-seller and Beck’s TV program has gained in viewership. Just this past Saturday, a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in DC hosted by Beck (along with Sarah Palin) attracted tens (or perhaps hundreds) of thousands of participants. Perhaps these developments account for the fact that my post on William Shatner’s politics is the most viewed post on Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem, by an order of magnitude. Another possibility is that many people are interested in finding out what William Shatner’s political views are, and there are few other sites on the Internet that clearly and directly discuss Shatner’s political opinions. With this in mind, my secret plan to attract more traffic to this blog in the future is to……blog more about William Shatner! Shatner’s popularity might even increase further, as he will return to network TV this fall with the show $#*! My Dad Says, which is in fact a television show based on a Twitter feed–a clear sign of the times. So expect–and be prepared for–more posts about the one and only William Shatner.

I will close with a few announcements.

First, if you like what you see, please leave a comment and introduce yourself. If you are one of my friends who reads my blog posts as “Notes” automatically imported into Facebook, please take some time to visit my main blog site,, and post comments there. If you find it easier just to comment on the Facebook Note, I will of course read those comments as well, but the main site could use a few more (non-spam) commenters.

Second, I would like to address the requests I have received from my friends on Tumblr to use that site more often. Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem has served me well, and I will if anything devote more time to it, not less. I will continue to post on my Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem Tumblr occasionally, especially for short items that don’t require or deserve a full blog post. I may in fact post there with a slightly greater frequency, as blogging here and posting items to Tumblr may be complements not substitutes, to put it in economic parlance. Furthermore, an RSS feed of my Tumblr posts will remain visible on the sidebar of this site, an idea I got from fellow blogger Robert Talbert–a nice guy with many interesting things to say over at his blog Casting Out Nines.

Finally, while I do not wish to issue any corrections or retractions for my first five years of blogging, I do wish to sincerely apologize to economist and journalist Tim Harford for repeatedly misspelling his surname.

Thanks for reading! Here’s to five more years!

Posted in Announcements, Personal | 1 Comment »

Paul Ryan is not a fraud

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on August 9, 2010

Paul Ryan is a Republican United States Congressman representing Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district. Over the past two years, he has become a leading voice among the Republicans on the subject of fiscal policy (government taxation and spending). Yesterday, superblogger Andrew Sullivan echoed economist Paul Krugman by accusing Ryan of being a fraud, writing:

I have to say that Paul Krugman made a very strong case that the young GOPer is still drinking supply-side Kool-Aid.

…I remain pretty much persuaded by Krugman’s broad critique, however. Cutting taxes at this point in American history, in the face of this much debt, strikes me as loony.

From my vantage point, it is Sullivan who is drinking Krugman’s hyper-partisan left-wing Kool-Aid. I understand that Sullivan is angry about Republicans who propose tax cuts without recognizing the need for substantial spending cuts and tax increases to put America’s fiscal house in order (and on that account I agree with him). But that’s not what Ryan is doing. Ryan developed his plan for across-the-board reductions in government spending as a way to ease the US debt burden without having to employ extremely high tax rates. Ryan further contends that we can climb out from under the debt through economic growth if we stimulate the economy with carefully-targeted tax cuts. There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether we could bolster economic growth and help claw our way out of the current recession with tax cuts, just as there is a continuing debate about the need for additional stimulus in the form of increased government expenditures (some in the form of aid to the states, which Congress is considering this week). While I am probably closer to Sullivan than to Ryan on the subject of whether or not we need tax cuts right now, it inefficient, ignorant, and just plain rude to label anyone who favors tax cuts as “loony”–we are, after all, still reeling from the effects of one of the largest recessions in history. It may be silly to think that we can tax-cut our way out of a recession, but from the standpoint of economic theory it’s no sillier than thinking we can government-spend our way out of a recession, which has been the policy of the Obama Administration and the Democrat-controlled Congress for the past two years.

Furthermore, Paul Krugman’s attacks on Ryan are at least somewhat spurious. Krugman alleges that Ryan was being disingenuous by having the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) only score the part of Ryan’s “Roadmap” involving spending cuts, while ignoring Ryan’s proposed tax cuts, which would understandably eat away at much of the savings that Ryan’s spending reductions would create. The only problem with this line of attack is that the CBO doesn’t, as part of its operations, score tax cuts. As Megan McArdle, the business and economics editor for the Atlantic, points out in an excellent blog post entitled “Krugman is Wrong on Ryan and the CBO”, scoring tax cuts is the responsibility of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). And Ryan did ask the JCT to score his tax cut proposals, although the JCT turned him down–possibly due to its heavy workload scoring the tax provisions of healthcare reform.

As an aside, I should say that I agree with a few of Krugman’s criticisms of Ryan’s plan, notably that Ryan fails to specify precisely what programs he would cut to achieve some of his spending reductions, and that other spending reductions rely on cuts in politically-sensitive Medicare, which are unlikely to ever be enacted.

However, Krugman writes:

The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.

This, of course, is just partisan vitriol. Ryan’s plan makes several useful contributions to the debate, even if it is not the most realistic or workable plan that has ever been proposed. Paul Ryan may not be the fiscal prophet that some on the right wish him to be, but he certainly doesn’t fit Paul Krugman’s caricature of a scammer, charlatan, or “flimflam man”.

Posted in Economics, Politics | 1 Comment »