Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Math is hard for gun nuts

At the Washington Post, I made a comment that would have been familiar to readers of RtO. It elicted some self-satisfied rebuttals. Here's the thread:

1 American in 100 dies from gunfire. Let's talk about guns
Douglas Levene
Sorry it's 1 in 10,000. Math is hard.
10/3/2017 7:19 PM GMT-1000
ROFLMAO Uh no sorry 1% of the population does not die from gunfire. Stop making things up. The 2015 murder rate was 4.9 per 100,000 people. That's murder by all methods not just shooting.
10/3/2017 8:01 PM GMT-1000 [Edited]
Why do you people keep making these crazy things up? The total murder rate for 2015 was 4.9 per 100,000 so no 1% of the country is not being shot to death.
10/4/2017 10:39 AM GMT-1000
It is impossible to have a discussion with gun nuts, because they are both stupid and impervious to facts.

Perhaps a lesson from the acerbic press critic A.J. Liebling will serve to explain for the slow learners.  Liebling once chided the Washington newspapers for spending millions of dollars on prizes like electric coffee pots during a competitive circulation struggle. This was in the '40s.

The managements of both papers reacted in aggrieved fashion. In the past year, one wrote, the spending on incentive prizes had been only a few hundred thousand.

Liebling observed that that adds up to millions pretty quick. So it is with your chances as an American of being shot to death by one of your fellow citizens.  Your chance really is 1 in 100, since the average lifetime of an American is not 1 year but about 85.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A case of fruit beer

About 50 years ago, I read about fruit beer, but it was decades before I ever saw any. If ever there was a monoculture, it was American beermaking between 1945 and about 1976.

But eventually, I found myself in  an Austrian restaurant on Long Island which had raspberry beer on the menu. They lied. What they served was lager with raspberry syrup. Ugh. Worst quaff ever.

All along, of course, Europeans had been enjoying excellent fruit beers, particularly the lambics brewed in Belgium. Nowadays, thanks to Lite beer, you can get these even on Maui, though they are pricey -- about $17 a bottle.

What happened was this. There's a lot of talk among business journalists these days about disruption, as if this is something invented in Silicon Valley. It's been going on a long time.

In the '50s and '60s, local breweries were closing or being absorbed by regional brands, and by the late '60s the people analyzing the brewing sector predicted that soon there would be only 4 or 5 brewing companies in the United States: These were going to be Anhueser-Busch, Schlitz, Coors (then only a regional brewer), perhaps Pabst and Anchor, a specialty brewer in San Francisco.

Everyone else was going to be swallowed up and homogenized; and in America, unless you brewed your own (as I sometimes did), your only choice would be thin light lager. Then Miller introduced Lite (actually developed by Rheingold, a New York regional). That was disruptive.

Americans, knowing no better by this time, drank that swill, by the tens of millions of barrels, and Schlitz disappeared. The consolidation continued, although never quite to the level of 5 companies, but a funny thing happened.


Perhaps enough Americans traveling abroad discovered real beer to create a demand at home, but in any event, as the majors made beer lses and less desirable, here and there, and soon everywhere, small companies began brewing and selling loclly -- just like in the 19th century. As in the 19th century, the quality was varied and a lot of the stuff was pretty bad. But eventually, the brewers began to get the hang of it, and good beer was available.

Not fruit beer, though. Some guys from Idaho opened an undercapitalized brewery in Kahului in the '90s. They liked an extremely dry beer, which did not suit local tastes, and soon went out of business. But not before experimenting with a raspberry beer using 3,000 pounds of raspberries grown at UlupalakuaRanch.

This was good beer but no one would drink it. In the end it was sold for $2 a cup at semipro baseball games.

It took a long time but the craft brewers finally got around to fruit beer, and it took even longer to reach Maui. In fact, I'm pretty sure "craze" does not describe what's happening on Maui where a night of relaxing beer drinking still means a suitcase of New Zealand lager and a pack of cigarettes to most locals.

I was surprised, yesterday, to see a white and red can of beer labled "Raspberry Sour" tucked amid the welter of cutely-named craft beers at Whole Foods. Whole Foods and, to a lesser extent, Tamura's, have been selling a limited selection of fruit beers for some time, but they make up a tiny fraction of demand if shelf space is any indication. (Maui Brewing Co. makes a beer with a bit of pineapple, but it is not a fruit beer.)

From the can I learned of the "sour craze" for the first time. Raspberry Sour made by 10 Barrel  Brewing Co. in Bend, Oregon, and it's the McCoy.

Comparatively cheap too, at $3 a can.

There is, I think, a simple economic lesson in this, and it's nothing to do really with beer snobbery or back-to-the-simple-days-of-yore.

It's just that we are a very rich nation now, or some of us are. Joe Sixpack will continue to drink thin lager, sometimes paying a bit extra for a foreign label. though the stuff inside might as well have come from Grain Belt (a brewer of extremely cheap beer in the last days of the consolidation of the lager business, though I see that today the Grain Belt name is being applied to a craft brew, an unlikely ploy to anyone who drank Grain Belt back in the day.) Those of us with a little extra income can patronize bespoke beers and there are enough of us to support a small (in comparison to national consumption) fine beer sector.

Even, it now appears, a bespoke fruit beer sector.

Paul Krugman has a column today about lies the rightwingers are telling about taxes. He mentions, just in passing, the economic factor behind everything, from beer to cars, although so far as I know even Krugman has not cottoned on to the big news: we have too much capital. For the first time in history, there is more capital available than anybody knows what to do with. Enough even to bring good fruit beer to Maui.

Here's Krugman, almost coming to grips with the revolution in economics:

Many of the companies with big overseas hoards also have plenty of idle cash at home; what’s holding them back is a lack of perceived opportunities, not cash flow.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Price is wrong

How real news gets reported.

Also noted: It ain't cheap. A thousand hours of reporting time is tens of thousands of dollars.

Fine work at Politico.

Mutually assured destruction

The votes in Britain to withdraw from the European Union and in the United States to elect Trump were at bottom the same thing: an assertion of racism slightly veiled in a tissue of crackpot economic notions.

The racism is coming along nicely in both countries, thank you very much, but dealing with the crackpot economics is more urgent in the United Kingdom, because of deadlines in the EU Treaty. It has not gone well there.

In the London Review of Books, Swati Dhingra and Nikhil Datta (economists in London) run down all the difficulties facing Britain in withdrawing from the European Union, in an article called "How Not to Do Trade Deals."

It turns out it is hard to recruit partners into an economic suicide pact. Who could have guessed?

Although the essay scarcely mentions the United States, almost every line applies here and I urge you to read the whole thing. But to tempt you, here are a few nuggets:

The UK supply chain is highly integrated with the EU, with some car parts crossing borders about forty times. As a result, car makers and the government would like a sector-specific trade deal, that keeps the tariffs on cars and car components at zero and counts components from EU countries towards the rules of origin. But the UK and the EU can’t sign a deal that removes tariffs on cars and no other sector. To prevent countries cherry-picking and discriminating against other members, the WTO only recognises bilateral trade deals that cover almost all forms of trade between the signatory countries. A zero tariff deal for the car industry is therefore unrealistic.

* * *

 A larger problem is trade and foreign investment in the services sector, which makes up 80 per cent of the UK economy. There are no tariffs on services: non-tariff barriers are the main hurdle.

* * *
 Despite all this a UK-China deal could still lower costs of goods for UK consumers, but deep integration with a country like China, where labour is cheap and abundant and which has very different standards of safety and environmental regulation, is likely to hurt British blue-collar workers – the people who voted for Brexit. To avoid this the UK could insist on worker protection and consumer rights in its trade deals with developing countries. It could insist on social clauses in trade agreements that include the monitoring of safety standards, as the US has done with its Better Factories Cambodia project. But getting countries like China to agree to such clauses would be very difficult.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review 398: The Civilian and the Military

THE CIVILIAN AND THE MILITARY: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur A. Ekirch Jr., 340 pages. Independent Institute paperback

More polemic than history, Arthur Ekirch’s rehearsal of the argument against American militarism was published in 1955 and has been reissued every few years since, whenever the sabre-rattling seemed unusually loud.

At least up to 1940, the “history” is probably a reasonably accurate summation of the arguments that were used. After that, Ekirch omits the most important points at issue.

Even up to that point, he fails to provide what we read history for, which is some assessment of events in the context of the rest of the events of their period.

The practical argument against an army and a navy was that they were not needed, no one was going to invade America in her calm isolation. This was ridiculous on two fronts.

First, America did not win her independence thanks to embattled farmers but to a large army and a large fleet sent out by a European autocrat. The Framers, whom we adulate as wise above normal measure, lived this and knew it, yet they were firm against a standing army and for a militia, even using a “well-regulated militia” as justification for the 2nd Amendment.

Second,  America had not had till then and never has had since a well-regulated militia. In real war, the militia has always proven worthless, and throughout the 19th century it was regularly ridiculed for what it was, a drunken mob whose only practical purpose was to provide a taxpayer-paid police force so that employers could murder workers.

That equally severe criticisms could be laid against the militarists — Teddy Roosevelt appears in a particularly bad light in this book — does not justify presenting the antimilitarist arguments in a vacuum.

Despite occasional outbreaks of patriotism, Americans really did maintain their animus toward armies and military adventures up to 1940. After that, Ekirch sys correctly, everything changed. Considering the superpatriotism and bellicosity of today’s Southerners, it is instructive to see Ekirch quote many Southerners, such as Vardaman, who were usually populist and antimilitarist between 1865 and 1940.

Such limited merits as “The Civilian and the Military” has disappear when Ekirch gets to 1940. He writes from the perspective of a traditional liberal, but all along the pacifist bloc had often found itself allied in practical terms with the worst of rightwing tendencies. Organized labor had signed on to antimilitarism, which meant opting for a militia, even if the militia was likely to shoot workers — as at Ludlow, Colorado.

The helplessness of the liberal pacifists to stay out of the rightwingers’ bed came to a head in the conscription debate of 1940. Ekirch says the old-line antimilitarists were “forced into cooperation with isolationist groups.” He does not say who forced them, and they were — or should have been — free actors. They, after all, were the self-declared guardians of traditional individual liberties.

The isolationists came out of 1940 smelling like nazis, which is what they were. The alliance  that the old-line antimilitarists had entered into destroyed their moral standing, if not forever, for  long time.

In a world where rightwing aggressors were gobbling up both independent peoples and dependencies of so-called democracies, being against war was to be for nazism.

It was not an American who expressed this most clearly, but the American constructive fascists endorsed his action. This was Pius XII’s demand at Christmas 1942 for an end to hostilities. This episode is not in Ekirch’s book, but it happened nevertheless. And just at the peak of Hitler’s conquests.

World War II was followed by America’s first peacetime draft, and Ekirch endorsed the view of the pacifists that that meant a garrison state and military direction of the economy. His final, overheated chapter is called “Toward the Garrison State,” and the tone is near-hysterical: Ekirch thought the G.I. Bill was a plot to have the Army control the colleges.

In fact, the military had to scrap for bodies in the labor-short ‘50s, and by losing a big war managed to lose its access to conscription by 1973. In 2017, the active duty military, badly overstretched, was at about 3.5 million, or 1% of the whole population. While this matched the statutory size of the Prussian army, the paragon of garrison states, in the 19th century, it was tiny compared to the all-out effort in 1944.

Today, for the first time since T.R., America has a militarist president but the citizenry is as civilian-minded as it ever has been. If it weren’t for immigrants, the generals couldn’t even get to 1%.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


The New York Times notes a silence in the District. The deficit hawks in the Republican Party are not screeching at the new deficits in the president's tax proposal.

WBD promises a "middle class miracle." In a comment I submitted to the Times (not yet accepted as I write this), I promised something better than a miracle. Miracles don't happen.

But magic is real. You just have to know the trick. RtO knows it. Here is what I wrote:

 Growth is in reality very large. As a percentage of all activity, it is low, but that's because output is YUUUGE. Growth could be even better, but increases by whole percentage points are improbable under any policy.

Reaganomics has directed nearly all of the increases in the past 30 years to the tippy top. Sending more there will not goose growth. The overlarge administrative costs in our healthcare trainwreck are so YUUUGE that if they were reduced to the levels paid by, eg, Canada, so many people would be thrown out of work and so many monetary transfers would be X'd out that the economy would go into recession.

But a great deal of capital would thereby be released so that any growth objectives desired by cutting taxes would follow automatically without cutting taxes. Money is fungible, after all. Growth and deficit hawks should adopt single-payer. It would be like magic.