~ Thursday, March 06, 2003
Cynical or Delusional?

In The American Prospect's article about the Bush administration's ugly initimidation campaign against Mexico, there's this little gem:

In the Feb. 27 Economist,that magazine's correspondent
in Mexico City reports that "a stream of American
officials, sounding much more hostile than sorry,
have been trekking south to argue the point" that
American banking and corporate boardrooms, which
obviously have considerable clout in Mexico's affairs,
would look askance at a "no" vote by Mexico
and pull back from financial commitments.

Despicable, for sure, but what stuns me is the sheer absurdity. As I pointed out yesterday, American business leaders have already expressed their economic opinion of the war: the stock markets are tanking and hiring is at a standstill. If they aren't willing to risk bad investments at home to support a war, what on earth makes the Bushies think that war fever would make them forego good investments in Mexico? Are they stupid enough to believe this, or just brazen enough to lie about it?

Marketing 101

According to the New York Times, a Harvard economist wants to offer a new freshman economics course at the university. Professor Stephen Marglin wants to correct the right wing-bias of Martin Feldstein's freshman economics course with a more balanced approach.

Mr. Marglin said that he was politically to the left of Mr. Feldstein, but that he mainly wanted to offer students a class with a diverse range of readings and discussions. The class would also question some of the assumptions of standard economics and introduce students to the increasingly popular field of behavioral economics, which tries to explain why people often do not seem to act rationally, Mr. Marlgin said.

"The point is not to substitute one set of biases for another," he said. "It's to provide a more balanced approach."

The article goes on to mention that a student group has endorsed Dr. Marglin's effort.

On Saturday, a student group called Students for a Humane and Responsible Economics posted an online petition to support Mr. Marglin's effort. About 300 undergraduates have added their names to it, said Daniel DiMaggio, a junior who took Mr. Feldstein's class last year and is a member of the group.

My question is this: why choose the name Students for a Humane and Responsible Economics? That's just a rhetorical gift for conservatives. "Humane and Responsible" just plays into the stereotype that liberals are fuzzy, muddle-headed bleeding hearts. It also cedes exactly the turf that the conservatives want, namely, the claim to being objective, hard-headed realists. "Well," they will say, "we have to face up to hard truths; we can't be sentimental; little as it pleases our humane instincts, economics proves that we must bribe the rich with huge tax cuts, etc."

Liberals could learn some marketing savvy from conservatives. Conservatives choose names to steal the ground from under their opponents. So, for instance, they have groups called the Global Climate Coalition and the Environmental Conservation Organization to fight against stronger environmental protections.

So, come on guys, let's have another try at it. You need to say conservatives are wrong about economics, and that they have distorted it. You need to paint them as partisan ideologues. So, how about Students for an Empirical and Scientific Economics? Or Students for an Empirical and Non-Sectarian Economics (which produces SENSE as an acronym!)?

~ Wednesday, March 05, 2003
Has Bush no shame?

How disgusting is Bush's chintzy proposal for investigating the September 11 attacks, and the failures that led to them? Consider this: the University of Minnesota spent $2.5 million just to investigate an academic fraud case in their basketball program. And now we're going to spend just half a mil more than that to find out how we let terrorists slaughter 3000 people on American soil.
Voting with their wallets

Reuters reports in a story today that businesses are cutting back on hiring because of war fears.

The huge U.S. services sector
slowed its pace of growth last month and the number of jobs
in the sector fell, reinforcing views of a U.S. economy
struggling with a hangover from the boom years and, now, fear
of war.

This isn't the first signal of war worries from the business sector. After all, Wall Street has been growling bearishly about Iraq for over three months. But now Main Street has joined Wall Street. Even more than increasingly shaky poll results, this shows the political damage Bush is taking for his war push.

Business leaders are just about the most likely people in America to support Bush and the Republicans. If anyone is going to give Bush the benefit of the doubt, these guys will. Furthermore, executives and market traders aren't going to make important business moves based on whims or flights of fancy. Their very lucrative careers are at stake, after all. So when these guys are so sure that the war will trash the economy that they dump equities and slash payrolls, Bush has really lost the battle for the hearts and minds of Americans. Some of his most fervent supporters are voting with their wallets, and they're voting against the war.
~ Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Eschatological politics

Kevin Drum is bothered by an article that claiming end-of-the-world theology sets the agenda for Bush's foreign policy. Generally, he's uncomfortable with the idea that all evangelical Christians could be considered a lunatic fringe. He also asks whether end-time evangelical Christian beliefs really influence the Bush administration's foreign policy. He finds that idea particularly implausible because so many Jewish neo-conservatives hold prominent positions among Bush's foreign policy elite.

Well, last things first, as is appropriate for a post under this title. Israel is a beleaguered country. Israel and its supporters have long been reconciled to welcoming support wherever they found it. Today, they are finding their strongest international support among eschatological evangelical Christians. Israeli leaders have openly embraced that support for over two decades. For instance, see the 2001 Yossi Klein Halevi article in the New Republic here (Google-cached version; scroll to the end for the part on evangelicals).

As for whether Rapture-intoxicated Christianity shapes Bush's foreign policy, well, yes, it surely does. As the current Newsweek cover story shows, Bush and his administration are fairly saturated in a brand of pietistic, millennial Christianity. That aggressively uncritical faith is at the root of all Bush policies, foreign and otherwise.

Finally, we should not shy away from reality. The whole point of evangelical Christianity is to put a lot of debatable views beyond debate by making them a matter of faith. That doesn't make all of those views wrong. (Resolute support for Israel is a good thing, for example.) But it's no way to run a country.

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