the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

19 Oct 2010

In as seen by a liberal vegetarian english major in medschool with a subscription to the NYT on October 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I’m going to try to do a brief daily news recap, in two parts: 1) I talk about a ignored or little-mentioned meme from a frontpage article. 2) I look at a small news story and talk about how it connects to a larger trend. 1 = small in big, 2 = big in small. Cool?

Above the fold: “From Obama, the Tax Cut No one has heard of

As part of the stimulus package, congress approved a tax cut for 95% of Americans. That’s right, your federal taxes went down last year. Two problems: 1) state taxes rose substantially, b/c unlike the fed. gov’t, states can’t run up a tab—they have to balance their budgets each year. 2) the tax cut came in the form of less gov’t withholdings of funds from your taxes. But here’s what I latched onto from the article:

“In retrospect, we think that judgment [to cut taxes via less withholdings] was right,” [the deputy director of the NEC] said. “It’s harder to predict what’s good for politics. Ultimately, the best thing for politics is going to be helping the economy.”

I don’t think that’s true. There was a chance to help the economy back in early 2009 with a larger stimulus, but politics—in the form of too few Republican votes and Larry Summers‘s reluctance—got in the way then. The best thing for politics seems to be conjuring up a narrative that the economy is improving when your party is in power, and bad when your opponent holds the reigns. But that’s not good economics. And it doesn’t help someone just scraping by.

A suggestion: prior to an election, each party puts forward proto-legislation (they’re called “party manifestos” in britain) that’s scored by the non-partisan CBO for its effect on the deficit, jobs, etc. You win, you get to hold a majority vote on the legislation (nothing added, nothing subtracted).

Buried in the World News Section: “Two Chinese Managers Arrested in Mine Shooting”

The story, in full:

Two chinese citizens—managers at a Chinese-owned collum mine—were arrested on Monday and accused of shooting 12 miners who were testing wages and working conditions at the mine, about 200 miles south of Lusaka (Zambia). A district commissioner said the managers were charge with attempted murder, according to AFP. Two miners were transferred to a hospital.

Lost in the Chilean mine miracle was the fact that they never should have been down that shaft—the mine had been under investigation for previous incidents. We know who to blame in that case: the gov’t of chile, for not shutting down the mine; and the mining company, for putting profits before safety. In the case of the Zambian miners, it’s less clear who is the villain: The managers (for their desperate exploitation of their workers), the Zambian gov’t (for lack of oversight), China (for their increasing loss of a sense of accountability for the externalities of their state-supported interprises), the US (for our inexhaustible demand for cheap goods)?

Expect this chain of displaced accountability to become more, not less, tangled as mining operations (or Oil drilling or hurricane prevention or flooding disasters) become more complicated.


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