Comments: Staring In Slack-Jawed Horror At Michael Kinsley

Still thinking inside the box, aren't we. Brake the rules, forget logic, step out of the box, into the fourth, fifth dimension - it'll all make sense.

Posted by abb1 at November 9, 2008 09:13 AM

Jonathan, your anti-freedom and anti-progress agenda will just succeed in perpetuating poverty. You are probably the kind of person who thinks people should be deprived of the right to sell one of their paired organs (kidney, e.g.) even when they have a healthy spare.

Posted by mistah charley, ph.d. at November 9, 2008 10:07 AM

And by forbidding this deal, you are putting off the day when the poor country will no longer need to make deals like this.

Yes, every poor country is just a toxic waste dump away from prosperity.

(OK, maybe a toxic waste dump and child-labor shoe factory away.)

Posted by SteveB at November 9, 2008 10:14 AM

Why should Kinsley be an exception? Most human beings don't have all that much to say that's illuminating, thoughtful or original. Yet our push for constant "communication," especially from those supposed to shape or influence public opinion, propels them to spit out sensational or dumb drivel. Is there a reason in the world to publish the views of Coulter or Franken, except of course that their books sell?
So here we have Kinsley, attempting to be contrarian. Is he really morally challenged? Possibly. But why take the salted peanuts he and others dish up for a good meal at a bistro?
The stuff exchanged on a blog or uttered at a cocktail party is another matter. There it's OK to cling to half-baked notions or "outrageous" views. It's fun or venting, occasionally serious and enlightening. But who would think of publishing all but 2% of it? But that's what we now do.

Posted by donescobar at November 9, 2008 10:25 AM

At one point I described the Summers memo, and Rock's face twisted into a memorable grimace of disgust. It would be interesting to discuss with him now what he thinks about Summers being a prominent Obama adviser.

Are you saying Rock was angry with Summers or angry with you for being so radical?...

Posted by Ajit at November 9, 2008 11:15 AM

That Summers quote has become legendary, used by all sorts of people to show how morally bankrupt orthodox neo-classical economics is when it comes to thinking about the distribution of both costs and benefits. The background assumptions have utilitarian roots (e.g., the very idea of cost-benefit; methodological individualism; etc.), which has always been weak on the problems of distribution.

Really, this is less about Summers himself and more about something which isn't just under discussion, but is an actual practice. I think it's a mistake to target Summers, a red herring.

The thing that's especially bogus is that Summers' claim is considered thinking outside the box. The famous statement was and is pointing to an actual practice based on the orthodox view of "externalities."

The problem - as we know - is generally that producers externalize environmental costs and they are allowed to do so by existing tax structures, economic policies, and environmental regulations. Externalities like pollution are passed along to others. The solution is only partially moral outrage: basically, producers paying the full cost of industrial processes, of environmental damage (and that damage always affects people, as in the toxics case).

But... teaching at a policy school, and working on environmental issues, I see good reasons for thinking that this orthodoxy is going through some serious reexamination. There's some hope.

Posted by Helmut at November 9, 2008 11:35 AM

I reacted with disgust also. But then I was surprised by your reasoning. Of course you are right, the fact that rewards dont go to the right people is important. But the whole thing is disgusting even if the money went to the poor person.

We hate child labor, child pornography, child prostitution even if the money goes to the child. Its similar with adults. That is why we have minimum wage, and labor laws.

My compensation package as the capitalist would be based on making the farmer poorer and poorer, so he will eat my mercury for less and less.

Posted by Jawad at November 9, 2008 11:59 AM

@Donescobar -

Why pick on Franken? "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" is the book that got me interested in politics, and I still think it's fantastic. I get that Franken's basically a Clinton-loving DLC'er, but there's a lot of good stuff in there along with the dumb or immature stuff. Plus, it brought at least one guy up to a somewhat useful level of political awareness. (Can't say that for Coulter.)

Posted by Aaron Datesman at November 9, 2008 12:11 PM

Jawad:

We hate child labor, child pornography, child prostitution even if the money goes to the child. Its similar with adults. That is why we have minimum wage, and labor laws.

Sure, but it's hard to even start to get to that without first clearing away all of Kinsley's bloviation.

Ragout:

But of course it is implemented as policy.

Really? The World Bank has decided to start "encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs"? Tell me more.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at November 9, 2008 12:54 PM
Are you saying Rock was angry with Summers or angry with you for being so radical?

Angry with Summers.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at November 9, 2008 01:03 PM

Aaron
Could have picked someone else. The "dumb and immature" stuff overwhelms the "good stuff" for me. Also, I don't think he's particularly funny. He is right about Limbaugh.
My problem is, I see so much "dumb and immature" stuff about important issues and questions. Far too little gravity and far too little biting wit and criticism. Not just from vicious right wingers, but on the nicey-nice think pieces on NPR. The middle mind, everywhere. No I.F. Stone, no Lenny Bruce. Just the jello of the middle, so you get Kinsley and Leno, among others. Stone could talk about moral matters, Bruce's bite went underneath the skin.

Posted by donescobar at November 9, 2008 01:04 PM

if the rules don't recognize that some people, quite rationally, will wish to buy less safety for less money, they are doing the flying public a disservice.

This is a fairly common view among... well, idiots, that seems to amount to the opinion that everybody in the country/world is upper-middle class.

You occasionally hear the same type of person explain that the people who don't have health insurance have simply made the rational decision to spend that money on other things, and if they simply stopped paying for these luxuries, they'd be perfectly able to buy a wonderful insurance plan.

Posted by Christopher at November 9, 2008 01:06 PM

The definition of "shareholder value", as it relates to the fiduciary responsibility of corporations to stockholders, is relevant here. Establish a legal precedent that money is worth more in a happier, healthier world; that may give a push in the right direction.

Posted by Monkay at November 9, 2008 01:25 PM
consider the loan to Bangladesh to build some power plants that the World Bank approved a few weeks ago.

I see. So this plant would otherwise have been built in the first world, but now it's going to be in Bangladesh, and the electricity generated is going to be sold to us?

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at November 9, 2008 01:43 PM

Interestingly, there are now four separate explanations for the Summers memo.

1. He didn't write it!

2. If he wrote it, it was just a thought experiment!

3. If it wasn't just a thought experiment, it shouldn't be criticized because even if it wasn't put into action IT WAS RIGHT!

4. If it was put into action, it was a completely banal and reasonable proposal!

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at November 9, 2008 01:49 PM

Sounds logical to me, and then U wonder why ALL the good jobs went oversea---easy financing, lower polution standards.

Posted by Mike Meyer at November 9, 2008 02:10 PM

I'm sure Larry Summers will not deter Obamidiots anymore than the million other reasons that show Obama is an imperial stooge. It's not a surprise to anyone who was paying attention that Summers is part of the Obomba crew, along with Rubin, Z-Big, etc. Remember the 200 to 1 opposition to the Bailout? HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Posted by Marcus at November 9, 2008 02:15 PM

I see. So this plant would otherwise have been built in the first world, but now it's going to be in Bangladesh, and the electricity generated is going to be sold to us?

Nope. But basic infrastructure like power plants and roads support factories and industry. Lending money to poor countries for infrastructure projects is all part of the World Bank's evil plot to help the Bangladeshis produce more stuff! Factories make stuff people want, but, sadly, they also pollute.

Posted by Ragout at November 9, 2008 02:19 PM

Factories and power plants are not equal to toxic waste dumps. Not all pollution is created equal.

Posted by Monkay at November 9, 2008 02:38 PM

Why do we accept all the talk about "how markets work" or how "markets behave," as if markets were forces of nature or national destinies? They work or behave the way they do because people have designed them to work that way. We do know who benefits and who loses.
Leni Riefenstahl could have made a great movie about the gods of the market, descending from the clouds, directing their chosen people--the brokers and bankers and insurers--to follow the deities' will. Of course, no humans are accountable or responsible. The market made us do it.
Heil Market!

Posted by donescobar at November 9, 2008 04:05 PM

Factories and power plants are not equal to toxic waste dumps. Not all pollution is created equal.

Where do you think toxic waste comes from? Summers isn't proposing that we box up toxic waste and ship it overseas (nor is he opposing that idea). He's saying that when we buy stuff from, say, China rather than producing it ourselves, we're effectively shipping our pollution overseas. That's because the Chinese factory probably uses electricity from a dirty coal-fired plant, and probably disposes of toxic chemicals in an unsafe manner. Summers doesn't spell this out, but it's implicit when he talks about encouraging the "migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs" or says that "trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing." His point is that the Chinese have presumably decided that the benefits of their factories are worth the costs.

And they're disavowing Summers' own statement that the memo was "a mistake, a whopper" and "The basic sentiment...is obviously all wrong"?

Summers seems to be saying that the problem with the memo is that it invites misinterpretation, not that it's wrong.

Posted by Ragout at November 9, 2008 06:31 PM

Look, you know exactly why I'm asking these questions,

I know that it's because you misunderstand Summers' memo, but I'm not sure exactly what your misunderstanding is. My best guess is that you think Summers proposes to pack toxic waste into cruise missiles and blast it off towards Africa.

Posted by Ragout at November 9, 2008 06:38 PM

Doing the right thing will pay off. Money spent to discourage dirty industries anywhere is money well spent.

Posted by Monkay at November 10, 2008 01:13 AM
This is a fairly common view among... well, idiots, that seems to amount to the opinion that everybody in the country/world is upper-middle class.

It was to some degree a cultural manifestation of the internet bubble. The Washington Post, etc. had lots of writing along those lines in the late nineties. It was excruciatingly stupid, but I think that the moment has passed for that specific form of stupidity. It won't be back for quite a while, if ever.

Posted by Jonathan Schwarz at November 10, 2008 06:37 AM

I am so angry at Chris Rock for being so angry with you for being so radical.

Anyone want to buy a kidney?

Posted by manuelg at November 10, 2008 05:46 PM

More discussion here with a non-wingnut (AFAICT) defending him:
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/11/on-larry-summer.html?cid=138711672

Only scanned the discussion here so far.

Posted by me at November 11, 2008 02:17 PM

Michael Kinsley is a genius.

In the article you cite he makes another astounding assertion: "clean air and other environmental goods are luxuries."

Clean water, a roof over my head, and health care are my favorite luxuries, but clean air is right up there.

Truly, keeping toxins out of one's body (by avoiding contaminated air, food, and water) is a luxury available only to a small minority.

Bravo Michael Kinsley! He doesn't merely inform his readers. He delights, enlightens, inspires....

Posted by Walter M at November 11, 2008 03:28 PM

This does beg a question, though. If not Larry Summers, then who? Personally I don't know of many economists. Krugman's said he doesn't want such a job, and I don't know if Sachs would want it (though as I mention over at the discussion I linked to he has run two economies on the brink of collapse-- though I'm pretty sure that's too different to be sufficient experience). I'd think the position suffers from the same problem that Kurt Vonnegut observed:

"There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president."

As an aside: at base I think Obama is-- like every politician-- driven by power, albeit justly obtained where possible. My hope is that Obama's strategies for political survival will draw on the populist links he has in a substantial way and that will help counteract the bullshit he will be fed from every direction. But wait and see isn't enough. Other people cannot be left to tell the story of what is happening and will happen.

Posted by me at November 12, 2008 03:57 PM