Ezra Klein | Elon Musk Got Twitter Because He Gets Twitter – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Can Elon Musk break Twitter? I hope so.

I’m not accusing Musk of being a sleeper agent. The man loves Twitter. He tweets as if he was raised by the blue bird and the fail whale. Three days before locking in his purchase of the platform, Musk blasted out an unflattering photograph of Bill Gates, and next to it, an illustration of a pregnant man. “in case u need to lose a boner fast,” Time’s 2021 Person of the Year told his more than 80 million followers. Musk believed Gates was shorting Tesla’s stock, and this was his response. It got over 165,000 retweets and 1.3 million likes. That’s a man who understands what Twitter truly is.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder and former chief executive, always wanted it to be something else. Something it wasn’t, and couldn’t be. “The purpose of Twitter is to serve the public conversation,” he said in 2018. Twitter began “measuring conversational health” and trying to tweak the platform to burnish it. Sincere as the effort was, it was like those liquor ads advising moderation. You don’t get people to drink less by selling them whiskey. Similarly, if your intention was to foster healthy conversation, you’d never limit thoughts to 280 characters or add like and retweet buttons or quote-tweet features. Twitter can’t be a home to hold healthy conversation because that’s not what it’s built to do.

So what is Twitter built to do? It’s built to gamify conversation. As C. Thi Nguyen, a philosopher at the University of Utah, has written, it does that “by offering immediate, vivid and quantified evaluations of one’s conversational success. Twitter offers us points for discourse; it scores our communication. And these gamelike features are responsible for much of Twitter’s psychological wallop. Twitter is addictive, in part, because it feels so good to watch those numbers go up and up.” “

Ezra Klein | The Enemies of Liberalism Are Showing Us What It Really Means – The New York Times

   Opinion Columnist

“After three decades of dominance, liberalism is losing its hold on Western minds,” Matthew Rose writes in his powerful new book, “A World After Liberalism.

Rose does not mean liberalism in the way we typically use the word. This is not about supporting universal health care or disagreeing with Justice Samuel Alito. Rose means liberalism as in the shared assumptions of the West: a belief in human dignity, universal rights, individual flourishing and the consent of the governed.

That liberalism has been battered by financial crises, the climate crisis, checkered pandemic responses, right-wing populists and a rising China. It seems exhausted, ground down, defined by the contradictions and broken promises that follow victory rather than the creativity and aspiration that attend struggle.

At least, it did. Ukraine’s refusal to bend the knee to Vladimir Putin has reminded the West that, for those who have not yet learned to take it for granted, life under liberalism is worth fighting for. But true renewal will require more than horror at Russia’s invasion or paeans to Ukraine’s courage. It will mean grappling with liberalism’s deficiencies and rediscovering its core radicalism.”

Transcript: Ezra Klein Interviews Fiona Hill – The New York Times

To hard to summarize, but worth reading. Good book recommendations at the end. Bottom line, Putin goofed, and giving him a face saving out makes sense to avoid the dangers of international escalation. He sees himself as a second Vladimir the Great, a Ukrainian prince, who created an early Ukrainian/Russian empire around 990 AD.

Ezra Klein | Biden Has the Right Idea, but the Wrong Words – The New York Times

David Lindsay: I was unhappy with Biden’s speech last night, but it was late, and I had tennis at 6:30 am, so I went to bed rather than process my issues.  Ezra Klein apparently did not have to go to bed for early tennis, and he really connected some of my thoughts. My main critique was that he continued to want all of the above, instead of a narrow focus on mitigating climate change and rebuilding the middle class through manufacturing in America.  He has to get his program past Manchin and Sinema, to get it passed. I agree with David Brooks and others, James Carville, David Axelrod, and Stanley Greenfield, that you have to win over more white working class men in 4 critical states, if you want to carry the 4 swing states that determine whether the Democrats or the Trumpistas take over the White House.

Here is the end of Klein’s take on last night.

“. . . There are parts of Biden’s agenda that, if passed, could help to lower prices for families, rapidly. Medicare could negotiate drug prices next year. Child care subsidies could take effect quickly. There is no resource limitation stopping us from lowering Obamacare premiums. The same cannot be said for Biden’s more ambitious proposals to build the productive might and critical supply chains of the United States. To decarbonize the economy and rebuild American manufacturing and lead again in semiconductor production is the work of years, perhaps decades. It won’t change prices much in 2022 and 2023.

But it needs to be done, and not just because of Russia. Covid was another lesson, as America was caught without crucial supply chains for masks and protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic and without enough computer chips as the virus raged on. And while I don’t like idly speculating about conflict with China, part of avoiding such a conflict is making sure its costs are clear and our deterrence is credible. As of now, whether we have the will to defend Taiwan militarily is almost secondary to whether we have the capability to sever ourselves from Chinese supply chains in the event of a violent dispute.

Biden devoted a large chunk of his speech to his Buy American proposals, which economists largely hate but voters largely love. As a matter of trade theory, I’m sympathetic to the economists, but as Russia is proving, there’s more to life than trade. You could see that in an analysis done by The Economist, which has long been one of the loudest voices arguing for the logic of globalization. “The invasion of Ukraine might not cause a global economic crisis today, but it will change how the world economy operates for decades to come,” it wrote. Russia will become more reliant on China. China will try to become more economically self-sufficient. The West is going to think harder about depending on autocracies for crucial goods and resources.

This was, in the end, the unfulfilled promise of Biden’s speech. Russia’s invasion and America’s economy were merely neighbors in the address, but no such borders exist. And connecting them, explicitly, would bring more coherence and force to Biden’s agenda.

Energy, for instance, is central to Russia’s wealth, power and financial reserves. Biden could have used that to mount a full argument for his climate and energy package, which is languishing in the wreckage of Build Back Better. As the energy analyst Ramez Naam has noted, Biden’s package would reduce American demand for oil and natural gas, both of which would weaken Russia — and plenty of other petrostates we’d prefer that neither we nor our allies were dependent on.

Helpfully for Biden, Joe Manchin seems not just open to this line of argument; he’s leading on it. “The brutal war that Vladimir Putin has inflicted on the sovereign democratic nation of Ukraine demands a fundamental rethinking of American national security and our national and international energy policy,” the senator said in a statement on Tuesday:

The United States, our European allies and the rest of the world cannot be held hostage by the acts of one man. It is simply inexplicable that we and other Western nations continue to spend billions of dollars on energy from Russia. This funding directly supports Putin’s ability to stay in power and execute a war on the people of Ukraine.

Manchin went on to say that “we must commit to once again achieving complete energy independence by embracing an all-of-the-above energy policy to ensure that the American people have reliable, dependable and affordable power without disregarding our climate responsibilities.” I do not claim to know what Manchin truly has in mind here or what he will vote for when the roll is called. But it is a door ajar, and Biden should step through it.”

Ezra Klein | If Joe Biden Doesn’t Change Course, This Will Be His Worst Failure – The New York Times

“Ninety-five percent of Afghans don’t have enough to eat. Nearly nine million are at risk of starvation. The U.N.’s emergency aid request, at more than $5 billion, is the largest it has ever made for a single country. “The current humanitarian crisis could kill far more Afghans than the past 20 years of war,” David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, wrote recently.

And we bear much of the blame. We have turned a crisis into a catastrophe.

The drought in Afghanistan is the worst in decades. The Taliban is a brutal regime that has no idea how to manage an economy, and in many ways is barely trying. “Remember, the Emirate had not promised you the provision of food,” Mullah Muhammad Hassan, the head of the Taliban regime, said. “The Emirate has kept its promises. It is God who has promised his creatures the provision of food.” “

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Ezra Klein. This is on point and simply brilliant. I am an early and vocal supporter of Joe Biden, but he is blowing this catastrophe, and this new disaster might well be the big regret of his life, like not intervening in Rwanda was for Bill Clinton.
Though I don’t pretend to be an expert of Afghanistan, I expect that the there is a 95% chance that the Taliban will be more disciplined and professional regarding the handling of their county’s funds, than the extremely corrupt government that we wasted two trillion dollars on. They might see the role of woman in an antediluvian manner, but so did we just a few hundred years ago. Klein is on to something big. If we starve this new, extremely old-fashioned and puritan Taliban government of resources, the massive starvation of the people will be on us.
We have to release all the money belonging to the Afghani people one way or the other, so the economy can start up again, or all the blood from impending starvation will be on our hands. No one is saying that the world is fair.
David Lindsay blogs at InconvenientNews.net, and is the author of “The Tayson Rebellion,” about 18th century Vietnam.

Ezra Klein | Can Democrats See What’s Coming? – The New York Times


“. . .  Finally, Yellen talked about Biden’s tax agenda, and in particular, the effort to impose a global minimum tax. That would raise U.S. tax revenues, which could finance more investments, and push companies to compete based on production and innovation, rather than by gaming tax systems.

Part of the problem here is Yellen is trying to fit her modern supply-side economics to the existing Build Back Better agenda. Ben Harris, her assistant secretary for economic policy, said as much. “The idea was to be forward-looking,” he told me. “The second part driving it was that there didn’t seem to be a good organizing principle of what Build Back Better was designed to do.”

Harris is right about that, and I think it’s a more damning observation than he intended. Build Back Better is a grab-bag of longstanding Democratic proposals jammed together into a superbill designed to evade the filibuster. Or maybe I should say: That’s what it was. But Build Back Better is, at this point, a dead letter. Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition forced Democrats back to the drawing board. The silver lining is that they now have the opportunity to design something that does have a good organizing principle.

But that will require resolving two fundamental tensions in how Democrats conceive of not just what the economy needs but what the government can do to help, and how to know when what the government is doing has hurt.

Many Democrats still fear the dreaded specter of “industrial policy” — of government picking winners and losers, and wasting money or reputation on bad bets and patronage. That pushes them to extremely general goals: more workers, or more research, or more broadband.

But that fear is now matched by a horror of where markets are leading us — into climate crisis. Here, the Biden administration gets specific. It names the technologies it wants and the kinds of infrastructure we lack: better batteries and more electric car charging stations and cheaper solar panels and next-generation geothermal and nuclear technologies.

Yellen doesn’t see this as a tension. The government’s role is to step in when markets fail, and climate change is a market failure. “There are areas where you can say the private sector doesn’t have sufficient incentives to engage in applied research we need and that would easily pass a cost-benefit test,” she told me. “Environmental economics is one clear example of it.”

But is climate change truly such an exception? Take the pandemic we’re living through now. The private sector doesn’t have the incentive to build and maintain the vaccine manufacturing capacity necessary to inoculate the world against rapidly evolving strains of a pandemic virus. Nor did it have reason to stockpile the masks and tests and assorted other materials we needed.

“What we need is market shaping, not just market fixing,” Mariana Mazzucato, an economist and the author of “Mission Economy,” told me. “The usual mantra for the mainstream is if the state tries to do more than fix market failures, it’ll crowd out business. It assumes business already wants to invest. That’s not true. In most of these bold areas, business often is risk averse. We need to see the crowding-in effect, not just the crowding-out effect.”

Alec Stapp, co-founder of the Institute for Progress, had a formulation here that I liked. “This isn’t about government controlling the means of production,” he told me. “It’s about government controlling the ends of production. Deciding what we are producing toward, what we are building for.” “

David Linsday:  Oops, I already posted this, but not the good part above. After my post of the aritcle’s long winded opening, I wrote: David Lindsay: This is a long but strong critique of the Biden administration. If they want a war on Covid, and climate change, they might have to be more forceful, muscular, and embrace more industrial policy. I agree with this critique and recommendation.

Ezra Klein | Can Democrats See What’s Coming? – The New York Times

“If you had to distill the ambitions of the Democratic Party down to a single word, you might well choose “Denmark.” But “France” would also work. Or “Germany.” Any Western European nation, really, with the social insurance options many of us envy: universal health care and affordable child care, to name but a few. Much of modern American liberalism is designed to close those gaps, to build here what already exists there.

I hope to close those gaps, too. But what about building here what does not already exist there?

Over the past few years, social insurance programs did much to ease suffering, but it was mRNA vaccines that did the most to protect human life. And this points toward a place where American liberalism could dream bigger dreams. Most liberals can list the programs they want the government to create or expand. Fewer can name the five technologies they want the government to finance or the five scientific challenges they want to see it mobilize to solve. But technology is central to how we make the future look different from the past. To leave that to the market, or to think it apolitical, is abdication.

In an important speech at — sigh — Davos, Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, began building a framework for those questions. The Biden administration, she said, was pursuing a “modern supply-side economics.” She argued that the economy isn’t growing as it could because it doesn’t have enough of what it needs. We need more workers, we need more roads and bridges and airports and broadband, we need more scientific breakthroughs — oh, and we need a stable climate, too. And to get all that, we need government.”

David Lindsay: This is a long but strong critique of the Biden administration. If they want a war on Covid, and climate change, they might have to be more forceful, muscular, and embrace more industrial policy. I agree with this critique.

Ezra Klein | This Presidency Isn’t Turning Out as Planned – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“Joe Biden was Barack Obama’s vice president. His Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, was Obama’s pick to lead the Federal Reserve. The director of Biden’s National Economic Council, Brian Deese, was deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council. His chief of staff, Ron Klain, was his chief of staff for the first two years of the Obama administration and then Obama’s top Ebola adviser. And so on.

The familiar names and faces can obscure how different the new administration, in practice, has become. The problems Biden is facing are an almost perfect inversion of the problems Obama faced. The Obama administration was bedeviled by crises of demand. The Biden administration is struggling with crises of supply.”

Brilliant. Many valid points, despite the comments, which have some truth too. Maybe the Republicans threw the banana peels, but Biden chose to slip on them all.

Ezra Klein| The Economic Mistake Democrats Are Finally Confronting – The New York Times

“But before we get to that, I want to widen the definition of “supply,” a dull word within which lurks thrilling possibilities. Supply-side progressivism shouldn’t just fix the problems of the present; it should hasten the advances of the future. A problem of our era is there’s too little utopian thinking, but one worthy exception is Aaron Bastani’s “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” a leftist tract that puts the technologies in development right now — artificial intelligence, renewable energy, asteroid mining, plant and cell-based meats, and genetic editing — at the center of a post-work, post-scarcity vision.

“What if everything could change?” he asks. “What if, more than simply meeting the great challenges of our time — from climate change to inequality and aging — we went far beyond them, putting today’s problems behind us like we did before with large predators and, for the most part, illness. What if, rather than having no sense of a different future, we decided history hadn’t actually begun?”

Bastani’s vision is bracing because it insists that those of us who believe in a radically fairer, gentler, more sustainable world have a stake in bringing forward the technologies that will make that world possible. That is a political question as much as a technological one: Those same technologies could become accelerators of inequality and want if they’re not embedded in thoughtful policies and institutions. But what Bastani sees clearly is that the world we should want requires more than redistribution. It requires inventions and advances that render old problems obsolete and new possibilities manifold.

Climate change is the most pressing example. If the Biden administration gave every American a check to transition to renewables, the policy would fail, because we haven’t built that much renewable capacity, to say nothing of the supply chain needed to deploy and maintain it. In a world where two-thirds of emissions are now coming from middle-income countries like China and India, the only way for humanity to both address climate change and poverty is to invent our way to clean energy that is plentiful and cheap, and then spend enough to rapidly deploy it.”

Ezra Klein | Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem – The New York Times

“. . .  Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation. But what our ignominious exit really reflects is the failure of America’s foreign policy establishment at both prediction and policymaking in Afghanistan.

“The pro-war crowd sees this as a mechanism by which they can absolve themselves of an accounting for the last 20 years,” Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, told me. “Just think about the epic size of this policy failure. Twenty years of training. More than $2 trillion worth of expenditure. For almost nothing. It is heartbreaking to watch these images, but it is equally heartbreaking to think about all of the effort, of lives and money we wasted in pursuit of a goal that was illusory.” “