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Capitalism Untried

The great English writer G. K. Chesterton leveled this devastating charge against Christians: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” The same is certainly true of the capitalist ideal.

Fundamental to capitalist theory is that resources, including both capital and labor, are constantly reallocated to wherever they can generate a greater return. Capitalist theory therefore requires that resources be allowed the freest possible movement.

The European experiment constitutes an attempt, at least within Europe, to realize the ideal of free movement of capital and labor, allowing both to seek to maximize their returns. If a German consumer can buy cheaper goods in Poland, she is free to do so; if a Polish worker can earn more working in Germany, she is free to do that as well. The result is supposed to be that buyers can buy from and sellers can sell to a wider market than their own countries. This is supposed to enhance competition, which in turn is supposed to increase quality and reduce costs.

Free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership address the movement of some resources, but not labor – by facilitating trade among the member countries, free trade agreements ease restrictions on the movement of money and goods, without necessarily changing the rules that apply to movement of people.

One of the principle American complaints against free trade agreements is that these agreements put American workers into competition against workers who are paid much less, therefore disadvantaging the American worker. This is undeniably true: in 2014, for instance, the average American enjoyed a disposable income of $45,363; the average Mexican just $10,348. Even with lower educational and skill levels, poorer infrastructure support, increased shipping costs, and other disadvantages like geographical separation of American engineering and design from Mexican fabrication and assembly, many goods can be made as well but more cheaply in Mexico than in the U.S., both for American consumers and for export to the rest of the world.

Capitalist theory says that moving jobs to low wage countries will raise wages in that country. When the supply of jobs rises faster than the demand for jobs – or, stated conversely – when the demand for labor rises faster than the supply of labor – the price of labor rises to ensure that demand remains filled. As the price of labor in the low wage country rises, and as the wage differential shrinks, for every manufactured good there comes a point where the disadvantages of foreign manufacture outweigh the advantages.

Take China. From 1990 to 2006, Chinese gross domestic product grew by about 325 percent, compared to American growth of just over 60 percent. The difference in GDP per capita remains striking: American GDP per capita in 2015 was $55,805, compared to $14,107 in China. Nonetheless, the gap has narrowed enough that, given the disadvantages of foreign manufacture, for the first time in years, more American manufacturers are planning on creating manufacturing jobs in the United States than in any other country, for goods sold in the U.S.

For large American manufacturers, 31 percent are planning to add American jobs, compared to 20 percent planning to add jobs in China. These numbers are virtually flipped from survey results in 2013.

Furthermore, “reshoring” manufacturing jobs from China to the United States is gaining momentum, up 250 percent from 2012. Similarly, American manufacturers have also “reshored” some production from Mexico.

In other words, as long as the United States retains its comparative advantages in areas such as technology, education, and infrastructure, in the long run the manufacturing jobs will return well before foreign wages equal American wages. Meanwhile, there are two problems: we have to invest what it takes to maintain those advantages, and we have to be more creative and aggressive in assisting the people whose jobs are outsourced.

As a free trade Democrat, I favor free trade agreements, despite the hardships imposed on displaced workers, for three reasons.

First, reducing the wage gap between American and other workers is essential to long-term American security, and the fastest and most reliable way I know to narrow that gap is to maximize international trade.

Walling America off from international trade with lower wage countries only perpetuates the gap – and maintains the level of incentive for workers to find their way here, legally or otherwise. Donald Trump might build a wall between us and Mexico, but the notion that is wall will end illegal immigration is fantasy. If necessity is the mother of invention, then desperation is the mother of inventive rule-breaking.

A world where Americans and Europeans live in plenty while most of the rest of the world lives in want fosters resentment, then hatred, then hostilities. It’s bad enough that we choose to spend $610 billion a year on the military; imagine if we had no choice but to spend that much.

Second, increasing people’s economic well-being is good and just. And economic development fosters democratic development, which is also good and just. Creating a better and more just world is surely a proper goal of American policy.

And third, as the rest of the world develops economically, Americans benefit economically. Our own sellers can sell to and our own buyers can buy from wider markets, raising quality and reducing prices, increasing economic efficiency and standards of living for all concerned.

But there remain those two problems: retaining our comparative advantages in technology, education, and infrastructure; and creatively and aggressively assisting the people whose jobs are outsourced. We are currently doing a lousy job at both.

Fortunately, there is a single policy option that could solve a large part of both problems: sustained, high-level federal commitment to infrastructure development and maintenance. I’ve proposed adding $200 billion in infrastructure spending every fiscal year from 2017 to 2030, for a total of $2.8 trillion of the $3.6 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is needed.

Investment in everything from high-speed rail to high-speed internet would create quality jobs now, and would enhance our competitive advantage for decades to come. Replacing lead pipes, thereby reducing lead content in our drinking water, would literally increase our population’s median IQ, facilitating better education and technical training before even getting to classroom reforms. Rebuilding our highways, bridges and urban mass transit would improve both our economy and our quality of life.

Chinese wages are rising, and that’s a good thing. As Chinese wages rise, many of the jobs we sent to China will come back, and furthermore better paid Chinese workers will demand more of our products, from software to cars, adding even more jobs.

Our workforce must be ready to do those jobs, and our infrastructure must be ready to support them.

 

Now for the Democrats

It was certainly an unusual convention: this edition of the quadrennial gathering of Republican delegates featured fear and rage. There was no shining city on a hill, no morning in America. There was bitter invective against illegal immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter, Barack Obama, and most of all, of course, Hillary Clinton.

For me, the enduring image of the 2016 Republican National Convention will be former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani screaming at the delegates, arms raised and fists clenched, rage blazing in his bulging eyes. American is under attack, he said, from ISIS and from Black Lives Matter.

Giuliani, whose calm, reassuring and inclusive response to the 9/11 attacks in New York earned him the title “America’s Mayor,” gave a speech that was not just remarkably angry in its words. “I was struck by how angry the gestures, the facial gestures, the clenched hands, that went along with the words,” a Republican strategist observed.

Rage doesn’t make for clear thinking, and remarkably absent from the convention was an outline of legislation or other strategies to get us to the four goals set out as themes for the convention’s four sessions: Make America Safe Again, Make America Work Again, Make America First Again, and Make America One Again.

Beyond building a wall to keep illegal immigrants from crossing our southern land border, and banning all Muslim immigrants – or all immigrants from Muslim countries or all Muslims from countries that have had terrorist incidents or all Muslims who believe in Shariah or whatever the current form of the idea might be – there was little discussion of actual policies to further those four goals.

There was the usual Republican talk of tax cuts, school choice, job creation, and so on, but little detail and no explanation how more of these long-standing Republican priorities will work better now than they have in the past.

There were volumes spoken about killings of police, but very little said about killings by police. Donald Trump actually promised to protect the LGBTQ community from foreign ideologies – ISIS, presumably – but nothing about protecting the LGBTQ community from discrimination, and nothing about protecting the LGBTQ community’s new-found right to marry.

There were lots of contradictions, my favorite being Giuliani’s venomous threat against radical Islamists, “You know who you are and we’re coming to get you,” standing against Trump’s condemnation of wars and nation-building in the Middle East. It was left unexplained how we’re going to “get” ISIS without fighting a war in the Middle East.

This convention has no precedent to help predict how the American electorate will react to a four-day orgy of fear, anger and hatred. Almost every convention generates a polling “bounce,” at least temporarily lifting a candidate’s poll numbers. It doesn’t always happen: FiveThirtyEight.com actually reduced Mitt Romney’s chances of winning slightly during the 2012 Republican convention.

Now, as at this point four years ago, the Democratic candidate holds a small lead in the popular polling. But now, as then, the distribution of voting patterns strongly favors the Democratic candidate – as of today 538.com’s statistical model gives Clinton a 60 percent chance of winning the election, and projects that she will win all of the states that President Obama won in 2012, for 293 electoral votes. The New York Times’s model gives Clinton a 74 percent chance of winning, projecting all of the 2012 Obama states plus North Carolina (which Obama won in 2008).

In 2012, Democrats followed the listless Republican convention with a “rollicking” display of unity. Given the bitterness of some Bernie Sanders supporters, this convention may not measure up to the 2012 standard. Still, we can expect a show of mutual respect, if not exactly mutual affection, by Clinton and Sanders to contrast with the continuing mutual contempt between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, or between Donald Trump and John Kasich, or between Donald Trump and most of the Republican establishment, or between Donald Trump and anybody who dares to question anything about Donald Trump.

It is hard in American politics for one party to win three presidential elections in a row. It is harder when the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, is a relatively mediocre campaigner. We know she is mediocre because she twice squandered enormous popular polling leads – in 2008 to Barack Obama, and in 2016 to Bernie Sanders. Compounding that, Clinton has a remarkable ability to turn a snafu like the use of private e-mail servers into a major national scandal, by hoping to muddle through it rather than taking early and decisive action to neutralize it.

Still, my basic optimism leads me to believe that Clinton will win. I do not believe that a voting majority of Americans want President Donald Trump. How the Democratic convention goes and how the presidential debates go after that will determine how big the win will be.

 

Rudy Giuliani and Black Lives Matter

You would think the slogan is unarguable: “black lives matter.” Is anyone willing to say that black lives don’t matter? But the slogan has engendered a remarkably heated opposition, most recently from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who declared on CBS’s Face the Nation program last Sunday that the slogan is “inherently racist.”

Giuliani leveled two attacks on the “black lives matter” slogan, neither one new.

First, Giuliani argued that it is inappropriate to point out that black lives matter without also pointing out that “White lives matter. Asian lives matter. Hispanic lives matter.”

I studied logic in college, but that was 40 years ago, and I’m a little rusty. Let me take a stab at it.

The Black Lives Matter movement asserts that black lives matter, which we’ll take as proposition A. Giuliani says that the slogan “black lives matter” implies that other lives don’t matter – in other words, A implies not B.

“Save the Whales” evidently, implies that the dolphins can go to hell, strangled in their tuna nets. Proposition A is that whale lives matter, and B is that dolphin lives matter; asserting A implies not B.

“The sky is blue” implies that there exists no other blue thing; proposition A implies not B.

Did we really elect this guy mayor? Twice?

In fact, I have yet to hear any Black Lives Matter member assert, suggest or imply that white lives don’t matter, Asian lives don’t matter, Hispanic lives don’t matter – or, while we’re at it, that police lives don’t matter. I think the reason for this is fairly simply, and fairly obvious: the point of the Black Lives Matter is not to diminish respect for other lives, but to raise respect for black lives.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not about achieving preference for black lives over other lives, but about achieving respect for black lives equal to that afforded other lives.

The factual premise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “black lives matter” slogan, is that black lives are at greater risk than other lives when it comes to law enforcement. Specifically, the premise is that young black men are at greater risk of being shot by police officers than are other people.

You can disagree with the premise. The New York Times yesterday reported on a study that found that American police officers use all kinds of physical force – from use of hands to pointing of firearms, and everything in between – substantially more frequently with African-Americans than with whites. But the same study found no racial bias in shootings, the highest level of physical force.

The study’s conclusions are surprising, in light of the stream of anecdotal evidence of disproportionate police shootings of young black men. But I know enough statistics to distrust anecdotal evidence, and the study was written by an African-American professor of economics at Harvard (who called the result “the most surprising result of my career”) – a source who seems both competent and resistant to anti-black bias.

The study’s conclusions are surprising for another reason – if police show racial bias in the use of physical force at every single level lower than shooting, it’s at least counter-intuitive that the bias would vanish at the highest level of physical force.

You get to argue the premise that black lives are at greater risk of being shot by cops. But you don’t get to deny the legitimacy of the premise. And you don’t get to dispute the commitment of the Black Lives Matter movement to the premise. Even if black men are shot by cops no more frequently than other men, the full context of American history gives ample credibility to the view that black lives have not yet achieved equal respect.

I don’t care to argue the point – anyone who doubts that American law, public policy and social norms have devalued black lives for hundreds of years, up to and including the present, should spend some time reading almost anything written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

If the Black Lives Matter movement believes – correctly, I think, but in any event – that police officers disproportionately shoot African-Americans, then there is no room for discussion that the assertion that “black lives matter” is not only decidedly not racist, but in fact egalitarian, and therefore the very opposite of racist.

Giuliani’s second argument is that by focusing on police shootings of African-Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement ignores the African-American lives lost to violence by other African-Americans. We’re back to A implies not B – if Black Lives Matter condemns police shootings of African-Americans, then manifestly Black Lives Matter doesn’t care about other deaths of African-Americans. Giuliani doesn’t quite say it, but it’s clear he means it: Black Lives Matter is motivated by anti-police bias, or else they wouldn’t single out killings by cops when there are other killings with which to be concerned.

I don’t think Giuliani would agree with an assertion that police officers should be held to the same standard as civilian criminals, or vice versa, but I think that is in effect what he’s saying. Black Lives Matter should be just as aggravated by civilian homicides as they are by police homicides.

But a civilian homicide is just not the same as a police homicide. For starters, a police shooting is by definition an action of the state. Actions of the state resonate with connotations of government policy and moral example in a way that civilian criminality does not.

Second, the police, unlike civilian criminals, are sworn to protect and defend the populace. Civilian criminals take no such oath. Police officers work for us; they are paid with our tax dollars. Police are supposed to be susceptible to the protest, “that’s not fair.” Nobody really expects that from civilian criminals.

Third, unjustified homicides by police officers are shocking in a different way than homicides by civilian criminals. We don’t accept civilian criminality, but we understand that it is both inevitable and somewhat random; randomness – or worse, racial bias – is not expected from officers of the law. The criminal justice system is symbolized by the blindfolded Lady Justice, who renders judgement without knowledge of race. We expect lawlessness from criminals; we don’t expect lawlessness from law enforcement officers.

Fourth, the police, unlike the population of civilians who will commit homicide at some point, are a knowable and identifiable group. We can engage the known population of police officers, challenging them to recognize their biases and training them to reason away from those biases. We can’t do the same, or anything very close, with future civilian criminals.

(This works both ways, by the way: killing a police officer is the taking of a life, just as is killing a civilian. But killing a police officer is also an attack on the justice system itself, and we justifiably punish criminals who kill cops more severely than criminals who kill civilians – not because we don’t value civilian life, but because we value both the police officer’s life and the justice system the police officer was part of.)

Even if civilian and police homicides were morally, politically, and in all other respects the same, the demand that Black Lives Matter address both or neither would still be flawed. The notion is oddly pervasive in our political discourse that failure to address a problem in its entirety voids the legitimacy of any effort to address part of the problem. It’s as if someone who has wants to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels has no right to speak unless she also proposes to reduce all other carbon emissions as well.

Yesterday, the Times editorial board characterized the Giuliani comments as “his trademark brew of poisonous disinformation.” I think that about sums it up.

 

Bad Guy with a Gun

Like millions of other Americans, Micah Johnson was angry about police shootings of unarmed African-American men. Unlike any other American, Johnson expressed his anger by murdering five Dallas police officers.

In a way, it’s a wonder this hasn’t happened before. High-powered weaponry is abundantly available. Concentrated police targets are easy to find in major cities – at parades, demonstrations, or near a police precinct house. Anger at police is intense, and is renewed by every police shooting of an unarmed black man. Means, opportunity, motive.

But as far as I can tell, this was the first mass shooting of police officers in American history.

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Can we finally put to rest the National Rifle Association myth that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”? This particular fantasy was spun by NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre after the mass murder at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. LaPierre proclaimed that the 20 school children and six adults who died there might still be alive if elementary school teachers packed heat.

The idea is that gun proliferation is a better crime control measure than gun control. All you have to do is arm the “good guys,” and bad guys with guns will be stopped dead.

The notion persists even as it defies reality. The notion that elementary school teachers will maintain cool precision under assault weapons fire is absurd. The notion that patrons of Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, will respond to assault weapons fire in the dark by precisely distinguishing the armed bad guy from all the simultaneously shooting good guys, is beyond ludicrous.

The “good guy with a gun” meme, like the “stand your ground” policy, seems to be rooted in the Old West of Hollywood movies, where the heroic citizen takes down the outlaw with a single shot at 30 paces in a duel at high noon. It was mythology in the age of six-shooters; in the age of assault weapons, it’s archaic mythology.

Police officers are presumably among the best-trained gunmen in the country – better able to maintain calm under fire, better able to shoot accurately. Yet Micah Johnson killed five and wounded seven of LaPierre’s good guys with guns.

Johnson didn’t even need an assault rifle – he reportedly used a Soviet World War II-era SKS-45, a semi-automatic carbine. The weapon is cheap and reliable, but not nearly as accurate or deadly as newer, more expensive weaponry.

And Johnson was not stopped by a good guy with a gun. He was stopped by a robot with a bomb.

*          *          *

Another NRA myth is that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to enable individual resistance to tyrants. After Barack Obama was elected – and once again race plays a key role in firearms issues – it became standard among gun proliferation advocates to quote Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

One of the more fundamental flaws with this myth is that it provides no mechanism for validating the individual’s determination that a government has become a tyranny, and that the time has come to “water the tree.”

Micah Johnson certainly believed that white police officers had become tyrannical, and that the time had come to shed their blood. By the NRA’s logic, Johnson is a patriot who should be regarded as a national hero.

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July 10, 2016 – My statement that the Dallas shooting “was the first mass shooting of police officers in American history” requires clarification. There has been at least one previous incident in which many police officers were shot and killed. On January 2, 1932, ten police officers went to a farmhouse in Greene County, Missouri, to arrest two brothers on charges of auto theft. Six officers were shot and killed, and the suspects escaped to Houston, where they were killed in another shootout three days later.

Legally speaking, the Greene County incident certainly counts as a mass murder shooting of police officers. But, unlike the Dallas shooter, the Greene County auto theft suspects did not seek out officers in order to kill them.

Also, during an uprising of Puerto Rican nationalists from October 30 to November 2, 1950, seven police officers were shot and killed, and 23 were shot and wounded. Again, the uprising certainly included mass shooting murders of police officers, but the “incident” occurred over four days in at least half a dozen cities, and was not a single event in the same way that Dallas was.

Buy Low, Sell High

Today’s New York Times features an argument in favor of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, apparently instead of increasing the federal minimum wage. But it’s not an either-or deal; we ought to do both.

The federal minimum wage is 78 years old, having started out in 1938 at 25 cents an hour. It was enacted as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which also established a standard 40-hour work week and time-and-a-half overtime.

Congress has increased the federal minimum wage 22 times, but the actual buying power of the minimum wage peaked almost a half-century ago, in 1968. That year, the minimum wage was increased to $1.60 an hour, which is the equivalent of $10.86 in 2015 money. Although the nominal minimum wage has since then more than quadrupled, to $7.25, the real value of the minimum wage is lower by a third than it was when Lyndon Johnson was president. Today’s minimum wage workers are paid as much by the federal government, in the form of public assistance and tax credits, as by their own employers.

President Obama has raised the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10.10. Democrats have introduced legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $12. Many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, support an increase to $15. New York and California have enacted phased-in increases to state minimum wages that will eventually reach $15 per hour at least for some workers.

There should be no question that a $15 minimum hourly raise would be an important departure from history – $15 is more than double the current minimum wage, and 50 percent higher than the historical high real minimum wage in 1968. A fully employed minimum wage worker would earn about $30,000 a year – which is hardly wealthy, but would keep a single-income family of four above the federal poverty line.

The federal Earned Income Tax Credit is about half as old as the federal minimum wage. Enacted in 1975, the idea of the EITC was to reward low income work over public assistance. By off-setting federal income and social security taxes of low income workers, the EITC removed financial disincentives to work.

The EITC enjoyed broad bipartisan support until recently. Ronald Reagan called it “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.” The liberal Economic Policy Institute says the EITC “is, by far, the most progressive tax expenditure in the income tax code.”

For the 2015 tax year, the EITC produced a tax credit for a single worker making less than $14,800, for a married couple making less than $20,300, and for a family with children with income as high as $53,300. The maximum credit applies to earnings well below those maximum incomes; at incomes above that, the amount of the credit decreases as income increases. The phase-out provisions avoid disincentives to marginally increasing income.

The only real problem with the Earned Income Tax Credit is that it is complicated, and therefore substantial amounts of the tax credit go unclaimed.

Unfortunately, the Republican Party that once championed the EITC as a vehicle for moving people from welfare to work has recently turned against it. The stated argument is that there are too many people who pay no federal income taxes. It’s unfair to the rich that low income people pay no federal income taxes.

Whatever. Let’s say that any worker whose federal income tax liability would be reduced to zero by the EITC will automatically have the EITC reduced to an amount that would require that worker to pay, say, $100 in federal income taxes. Then let’s adopt President Obama’s proposal to expand the EITC. We can spend that $100 on H & R Block vouchers for EITC-eligible workers to make sure they get the tax credits they’re entitled to.

Raising the minimum wage and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit are both great ideas that will reduce poverty and enhance private sector employment and its rewards. But another piece of the puzzle is still missing. The best way to increase earnings is to create jobs, increasing the supply of employment while the demand for employment remains constant. As it happens, this country has a really big need to create lots and lots of jobs – in infrastructure construction, repair and maintenance.

The American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card on the state of American infrastructure every four years. The ASCE rates 16 infrastructure categories, from aviation to waste water. In its last assessment, in 2013, only one category of infrastructure rated as high as a B-minus: solid waste. Eleven categories were rated D-plus, D, or D-minus: aviation, dams, drinking water, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, roads, schools, transit, and waste water. The ASCE estimated that we will need to invest about $3.6 trillion in infrastructure by 2020 to bring our infrastructure up to standard.

Our antiquated electrical grid is grossly inefficient, and modernization could save us both money and carbon emissions. The grid is vulnerable not just to outages but also to terrorism. A sophisticated attack – or just an unusually big solar flare – could send our economy into deep freeze.

Our drinking water infrastructure has virtually eliminated water-borne disease in this country, but the infrastructure is, well, really old. ASCE says we endure 240,000 water main breaks each year. Breaks impose substantial costs on individuals, municipalities and businesses. Post-Flint media interest in drinking water quality has revealed that, although our water infrastructure keeps us safe from disease, it does not keep us safe from lead poisoning.

ASCE estimates the average age of our 84,000 dams to be 52 years. The number of “high hazard” dams, meaning dams that would flood populated areas if breeched, constantly rises, and is now almost 12,000. Of those, about 2,000 are “deficient.” Dam failures can cost lives, as well as tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage and economic losses.

Apart from infrastructure failures, like power outages, water main breaks and dam failures, poorly maintained infrastructure imposes huge costs. For instance, the poor condition of our roads costs the average urban driver $700 to $1,000 in vehicle damage and extra gas, in addition to lost time. Midwestern farmers lose about a quarter billion dollars a year to freight transportation delays.

Poor infrastructure reduces employment, wages and productivity; exports, tourism and economic activity generally; personal health and safety; national security; education, quality of life, and life expectancy. The current state of our infrastructure will cost trillions of dollars in lost gross domestic product by 2020, and tens of trillions by 2040.

Spending money to fix our infrastructure creates jobs. Lots of jobs. Engineering jobs, skilled equipment operator jobs, manual labor jobs, clerical jobs. Creating jobs increases economic activity. Increasing economic activity raises tax revenue, off-setting costs. And a great way to move wage-earners above the need to claim Earned Income Tax Credits is to create a few hundred thousand new unionized labor jobs.

Yes indeed, $3.6 trillion is a lot of money to spend by 2020. So let’s start slow. Let’s attack the 11 of 16 infrastructure categories that ASCE graded in the D range and leave the Cs to another decade. And let’s aim for 2030 instead of 2020. If we commit to increase infrastructure spending by $2.8 trillion by 2030, that comes to $200 billion a year, which is just a little more than we spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at their peak from 2007 to 2011. And unlike those wars, infrastructure investment would pay considerable, measurable financial dividends, direct and indirect, short-term and long-term.

Entirely aside from how much economic activity and tax revenue improved infrastructure would produce, now is the ideal time to make this investment. Ten-year U.S. bond yields hit an all-time low yesterday, at just over 1.3 percent. Thirty-year bond yields, which have been on a generally downward trend for almost 35 years, are just trivially above their all-time lows – 2.3 percent yesterday, compared to 2.25 percent at the nadir of the Great Recession in January 2009.

In other words, the cost of money is historically low just now, and everybody knows you should buy when prices are low. We have the coincidence of historically low cost of money and historically high need for infrastructure investment. This ought to be a match made in heaven.

Fortune magazine equates the low cost of money to a “free lunch,” and says the match of the low cost to borrow money and the great need to spend on infrastructure is a timely “win-win.”

Along the way, we get to turbo-charge our economic recovery to full-employment and reap trillions of dollars in increased economic activity for decades to come.

The Divorce Ticket

There were only three serious candidates left for the Republican presidential nomination by the time the Republican National Convention convened in Miami Beach on August 5, 1968. Three days later, Richard Nixon won the nomination on the first ballot with just 25 delegate votes to spare out of 1,333.

The leading also-rans were the governors of our two most populous states: California’s Ronald Reagan and New York’s Nelson Rockefeller. Of course, Rockefeller was later appointed vice president after Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon as president, and Reagan was later elected president, ousting Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Reagan is the archetype of modern conservative Republicanism, and Rockefeller is the archetype of bygone liberal Republicanism. What they had in common was divorce: Ronald Reagan remains our only president to have been divorced, and Nelson Rockefeller our only divorced vice president.

Al Gore divorced Tipper Gore after he left office; therefore the 76 men who have served as president or vice president have run up a collective total of three lifetime divorces.

Donald Trump, the presumptive 2016 Republican presidential nominee, has been divorced twice. So has one of the most frequently mentioned candidates to be Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Newt Gingrich. The two of them would more than double the divorce total of the entire history of American presidents and vice presidents.

I don’t want to sound like a prude; I don’t disapprove of divorce per se – although in Trump’s and Gingrich’s cases (as in Rockefeller’s), the men’s divorce rate correlates closely to their infidelity rate, and their infidelity rate correlates inversely to their respect for women.

My most serious objection to Trump and Gingrich isn’t their marital history; it’s their policy history. Trump’s history of policy malleability and blowhard buffoonery has been well documented during this campaign; Gingrich’s history has not been much examined so far this year.

Speaking of malleability, Gingrich served as Rockefeller’s Southern regional director in 1968. He ran for Congress in 1974 against a conservative Democrat, prominently featuring pro-environment positions in his campaign. Gingrich was a history professor teaching environmental studies at the University of West Georgia at the time. The incumbent was listed on the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen.” Gingrich did well in the campaign, especially given that 1974 was a Democratic wave year.

Gingrich ran a re-match campaign in 1976. He lost a fairly close race – but again did unexpectedly well, this time against the tide of former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter’s big home-state win. As Gingrich prepared for a third race in 1978, the incumbent opted to retire.

In 1978, against a more conventional Democrat, and in the national context of increasing conservative supremacy in the Republican Party and the decline of Rockefeller Republicanism, Gingrich emphasized the anti-tax and anti-welfare positions that Reagan championed. He finally won the seat.

From his early days in Congress, Gingrich established a strong affiliation for the principles of “supply-side economics,” and a strong proclivity for confrontational tactics with Democrats. Gingrich organized a group he called the Conservative Opportunity Society, whose ideas Ronald Reagan employed in his 1984 re-election run and in his 1985 State of the Union address.

Gingrich took his first House leadership position in 1989, narrowly winning a race for minority whip. He vowed to make the Republican caucus more aggressive. In 1990, the conservative political action committee GOPAC took note, circulating a memo drawing conservatives’ attention to Gingrich’s vocabulary: the use of incendiary words like “radical,” “sick,” and “traitors” to describe Democrats and their positions, and words like “opportunity,” “courage,”and “principled” to describe Republicans and their positions.

Gingrich helped win approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and he was a proponent of free trade agreements generally. He wanted to expand NAFTA to include Chile first, and eventually all of Latin America. He has since shifted to opposition to NAFTA in particular and skepticism of international trade agreements in general.

Gingrich’s political high water mark was surely 1994 to 1996. Campaigning on his Contract with America, Gingrich spearheaded the successful effort to give the House of Representatives its first Republican majority since 1954. Republicans gained 54 seats, and Gingrich was easily elected speaker of the House. TIME magazine named Gingrich its “man of the year” in 1995.

The Contract with America included a variety of anti-tax, anti-regulatory, and anti-welfare proposals. It also included anti-crime proposals such as more aggressive use of capital punishment, enhanced funding for prison construction, and roll-back of constitutional protections against illegal searches and seizures. The Contract included proposals to limit American support for the United Nations, beef up defense spending, rein in tort litigation, and impose legislative term limits.

Much of the Contract became law under Gingrich’s speakership in 1995 and 1996. Some of the Contract – the plunge into mass incarceration comes to mind – has proved to be deeply problematic.

Gingrich proposed the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise in 1995 – not in order to allow gay service members to serve openly, but to reinstate military authority to ban gay service members altogether. Having once praised Democrats for their historic foresight in championing black civil rights did not save Gingrich from historic myopia in opposing gay civil rights.

Ultimately, it was Gingrich’s penchant for confrontation that led to his fall. Gingrich engineered a budgetary confrontation with President Bill Clinton that led to two government shut-downs in November 1995 and December 1995 to January 1996. Gingrich proved not to be Clinton’s match in the battle for public opinion, and his national standing was hurt.

Perhaps most damaging was Gingrich’s statement to a reporter that his position on the budget had been hardened by a personal slight – he contended that, on flights to and from Israel for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral, Gingrich had been directed to exit the plane by the rear door. The New York Daily News front-page screaming headline, “Cry Baby,” with the accompanying caricature of a Newt-faced toddler holding a bottle and throwing a foot-stomping temper tantrum, was only an exaggerated version of the general punditocratic reaction.

The problem only got worse when NBC released video showing Gingrich exiting the plane in Tel Aviv: he followed Clinton out the front exit. Gingrich was not just petty, but untruthful.

In 1997, Gingrich became the first House speaker to be formally disciplined for an ethics violation: claiming tax-exempt status for a college course given for non-tax-exempt political purposes. That summer, Gingrich had to put down a challenge to his leadership that was motivated by concern that Gingrich’s public image had become a political liability.

The final blow came in the 1998 mid-term elections. Gingrich was a leading advocate for Clinton’s impeachment, and he pushed Republicans to run on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (Later, Gingrich admitted that he had had an affair during the impeachment drive.) Republicans lost five seats – the worst performance in a mid-term election by a non-presidential party since 1934. Gingrich announced that he would not “preside over people who are cannibals,” and he left the House of Representatives after 20 years.

Most political movements have many sources, but Gingrich’s influence on modern conservatism is significant. He deepened Republicans’ commitment to tax cuts, and he demonized tax increases well beyond anything Reagan ever did. He elevated partisan purity over governing pragmatism, and he had a prominent hand in the development of Republicans’ confrontational style, giving rise to a hatred of compromise that favors risk to the country over risk to the party.

The bomb-throwing aspect of Gingrich’s personality seems like a good fit for the Trump campaign. As an adoptive Southerner (Gingrich was born in Pennsylvania), Gingrich would give the Trump ticket better geographic diversity than, say, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Also, Gingrich, at 73 years old and three years older than Trump, is less likely to want to upstage Trump in furtherance of future electoral ambitions. The much younger Christie, who is clearly bored with governing New Jersey, appears to harbor such ambitions.

Some of the commentary has been that Trump needs someone like Gingrich to compensate for Trump’s weaknesses – lack of political and governmental experience, lack of policy expertise, unfamiliarity with Washington’s dynamics and players. The problem with that analysis is that it overlooks the fact that Trump serves as a vice presidential nominating committee of one. Trump cannot make a vice presidential selection calculated to compensate for his weaknesses if he does not recognize that he has weaknesses.

Still, it’s a sign of how far things have fallen that commentators are asserting that Gingrich would bring “civility” to the Trump campaign. To my knowledge, Gingrich has no history of Trump’s brand of racial-slur-as-public policy. But Gingrich did say that President Obama “is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions].” He continued: “This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president…. If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane.”

 

Breaking the Gender Barrier

Before 2008, no major American party had ever nominated a presidential candidate who was not white and male. By the end of January 2008, it was clear that Democrats were going to end that streak by nominating either second-term Senator Hillary Clinton or first-term Senator Barack Obama.

Clinton had started the campaign as the prohibitive favorite among establishment Democrats and grass-roots Democrats alike; Obama was the long-shot newcomer. But Obama’s surprising success in early fundraising, followed by his surprising success in early primary contests, gradually shifted establishment Democratic support from Clinton to Obama.

Still, Obama and Clinton battled nearly to a tie among pledged delegates. Clinton’s campaign did not fade – she actually won two of the three June primaries. In the end, Obama won just 62 more pledged delegates than Clinton, out of 3,564 total pledged delegates. But Obama had a clear edge among superdelegates, who largely represented the Democratic establishment, and 36 hours after the final primaries Clinton announced that she would concede.

It’s hard to remember how differently Americans regarded Hillary Clinton in 2008 than now. Among other things, 2008 was before Benghazi, before the private State Department e-mail server, before the Goldman Sachs speeches, and before the Republican Party became a wall of obstruction.

Despite all of that, Clinton is about to become the first female presidential nominee of a major American party. And if current polling holds up – that is, unless Donald Trump figures out how to stop self-destructing – Clinton will become the first female American president.

Thus Election Day 2016 will be a great and historic day for the country, as was Election Day 2008, when we elected our first African-American president. But we should moderate our self-congratulations.

By my count, there are 198 countries in the world. Of those, 81 have been led by appointed or elected female heads of state, heads of government, or both. (“Appointed or elected” excludes hereditary monarchs.) Women today are heads of governments or states in 18 countries – counting Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, who holds the office but has been suspended by the Brazilian Senate.

Nor are Americans especially early to the game. The first female head of state was Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, who headed the Soviet puppet state of Tannu Tuva from 1940 until 1944, when the fiction of national sovereignty was eliminated. The first female head of government was Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was first elected prime minister of Ceylon, later Sri Lanka, in 1960. Bandaranaike served four separate times as prime minister, the last ending in 2000, when she was 84 years old.

European countries have not surprisingly best represented women among their appointed or elected heads of state and government, with 29 out of the 81 countries to have done so – although that includes East Germany and Yugoslavia, which is sort of double-counting because neither of those countries still exists, and successor countries of both have been led by women. More surprising is the representation of women at the top in the countries of South and Southeast Asia, regions not thought of in the U.S. as pioneers of gender equality. Yet Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia, and Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand in Southeast Asia have been led by women.

Fifteen African countries, all sub-Saharan (counting Mali, which is partly Saharan and partly sub), have been run by women. Seventeen Latin American and Caribbean countries have been run by women. Even Canada has been run by a woman – Kim Campbell, who served as prime minister for just over four months in 1993, until her Progressive Conservative Party lost to the Liberal Party of Jean Chretien.

Woman are underrepresented generally in top positions in American government, but more so in top executive positions. Three of eight Supreme Court justices are women; 104 of 435 members of the House of Representatives are women; 20 of 100 Senators are women. Only six of 50 governors are women. In the private sector, only 22 heads of Fortune 500 companies are women; it has famously been observed that more large corporations are run by men named John than are run by women. There is something specific about executive authority that exacerbates our more general lack of confidence in women holding high positions.

So it is a big deal that we are probably going to elect our first female president. But it reflects badly on us as a society that it has taken so long, and that we continue to elect so few women to high positions.

 

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