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.” “

Opinion | The Way the Senate Melted Down Over Crypto Is Very Revealing – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“For months, there’s been a debate over what should count as infrastructure. Roads and bridges, sure. But what about preschool and health insurance and child care? Democrats say yes, Republicans say no. With the exception of broadband access, however, there’s been almost no discussion of the infrastructure underpinning the digital economy. But right at the end, that changed, when a meltdown over cryptocurrency regulation almost derailed the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s passage in the Senate.

I’m going to try to do a few things here. First, I want to explain why crypto matters, even if you think Bitcoin is just goldbuggery for nerds. The technology is evolving to be much more than a digital currency, and Silicon Valley sees it as the digital infrastructure atop which the next internet will be built. Then I want to trace the fight that consumed the final days of the bill, because this was just an early skirmish in what will be a much longer campaign.”

This piece by Klein is pathetically vague, but the comments are not.

Here are the top two comments I recommended:

dave
pennsylvania43m ago
Times Pick

I’m no closer to understanding crypto currencies, but this article made the associated problems wonderfully clear. What it did NOT do was point out that in our current environment, anything that burns as much electricity as Indonesia should either be shutdown or construct its own solar/wind power source. The notion that someone somewhere is burning coal so these “whiz kids” can avoid the banking system is unacceptable. Climate change is 1000 times more important than more “digital innovation”…

12 Replies696 Recommended

Michael
Toledo, Ohio, USA43m ago
Times Pick

As a retired computer engineer in his mid-seventies, I hope to die before I have to understand and deal with cryptocurrencies, blockchains, etc. Regrettably, my children (in their forties, more or less) won’t be so lucky. For what it may be worth, to me Bitcoin looks a lot like gold: it has to be “mined,” with substantial expense and environmental damage; it has no intrinsic value; and it is little more than a medium for speculation.

7 Replies487 Recommended
Ann
Upstate. y7h ago

I live in the Finger Lakes, an area full of farms, wineries, rolling hills and lakes. We are working hard to end out reliance on carbon. On Seneca lake, a crypto mining facility is spewing enormous amounts of carbon into the air to run the computers. Crypto now uses as much carbo energy as Argentina. This industry does not belong in a world where dealing with the carbo emergency is paramount. The neglect to mention this reality makes this piece worthless. Everything should be now be studies through the lens of the climate emergency.

6 Replies281 Recommended
 As I might sing in my concert on the environment, Noah’s New Ark,
This will change with a carbon tax.

Ezra Klein | What if the Unvaccinated Can’t Be Persuaded? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“I hate that I believe the sentence I’m about to write. It undermines much of what I spend my life trying to do. But there is nothing more overrated in politics — and perhaps in life — than the power of persuasion.

It is nearly impossible to convince people of what they don’t want to believe. Decades of work in psychology attest to this truth, as does most everything in our politics and most of our everyday experience. Think of your own conversations with your family or your colleagues. How often have you really persuaded someone to abandon a strongly held belief or preference? Persuasion is by no means impossible or unimportant, but on electric topics, it is a marginal phenomenon.

Which brings me to the difficult choice we face on coronavirus vaccinations. The conventional wisdom is that there is some argument, yet unmade and perhaps undiscovered, that will change the minds of the roughly 30 percent of American adults who haven’t gotten at least one dose. There probably isn’t. The unvaccinated often hold their views strongly, and many are making considered, cost-benefit calculations given how they weigh the risks of the virus, and the information sources they trust to inform them of those risks. For all the exhortations to respect their concerns, there is a deep condescension in believing that we’re smart enough to discover or invent some appeal they haven’t yet heard.

If policymakers want to change their minds, they have to change their calculations by raising the costs of remaining unvaccinated, the benefits of getting vaccinated, or both. If they can’t do that, or won’t, the vaccination effort will most likely remain stuck — at least until a variant wreaks sufficient carnage to change the calculus.”

Ezra Klein is professionally delicate. The comments are far more direct and forceful. Time for sticks. No vaccination, no more access to public events, no more access to government services and payments, no more health or life insurance. Carrots don’t work, but sticks do.

Ezra Klein | It Seems Odd That We Would Just Let the World Burn – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

“I spent the weekend reading a book I wasn’t entirely comfortable being seen with in public. Andreas Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is only slightly inaptly named. You won’t find, anywhere inside, instructions on sabotaging energy infrastructure. A truer title would be “Why to Blow Up a Pipeline.” On this, Malm’s case is straightforward: Because nothing else has worked.

Decades of climate activism have gotten millions of people into the streets but they haven’t turned the tide on emissions, or even investments. Citing a 2019 study in the journal Nature, Malm observes that, measuring by capacity, 49 percent of the fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure now in operation was installed after 2004. Add in the expected emissions from projects in some stage of the planning process and we are most of the way toward warming the world by 2 degrees Celsius — a prospect scientists consider terrifying and most world governments have repeatedly pledged to avoid. Some hoped that the pandemic would alter the world’s course, but it hasn’t. Oil consumption is hurtling back to precrisis levels, and demand for coal, the dirtiest of the fuels, is rising.”

Ezra Klein | Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

 

“Joe Biden didn’t wake up one day and realize he’d been wrong for 30 years.

I covered him in the Senate, in the Obama White House, in the Democratic Party’s post-Trump reckoning. Biden was rarely, if ever, the voice calling for transformational change or go-it-alone ambition.

But you’d never know it from his presidency. The standard explanation for all this is the advent of the coronavirus. The country is in crisis, and Biden is rising to meet the moment. But I don’t buy it. That may explain the American Rescue Plan. But the American Jobs Plan, and the forthcoming American Family Plan, go far beyond the virus. Put together, they are a sweeping indictment of the prepandemic status quo as a disaster for both people and the planet — a status quo that in many cases Biden helped build and certainly never seemed eager to upend.

Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to White House staff members, to congressional Democrats, to policy experts and to the Biden administration’s critics to better understand why President Biden is making such a sharp break with Joe Biden. Here are a few of them, though this is by no means a complete list.

The collapse of the Republican Party as a negotiating partner.”   . . . “

The piece goes on with a section, We all trust economists less than before.

“. . . The backdrop for this administration is the failures of the past generation of economic advice. Fifteen years of financial crises, yawning inequality and repeated debt panics that never showed up in interest rates have taken the shine off economic expertise. But the core of this story is climate. “Many mainstream economists, even in the 1980s, recognized that the market wouldn’t cover everyone’s needs so you’d need some modest amount of public support to correct for that moderate market failure,” Felicia Wong, the president of the Roosevelt Institute, said. “But they never envisioned the climate crisis. This is not a failure of the market at the margins. This is the market incentivizing destruction.”

Deese, the N.E.C. head, is notable for being a climate wonk who’s now in charge of the nerve center of White House economic policymaking. And the scale of the climate disaster, and the speed at which it must be addressed, simply demands a different role for the government. “If you think across the big systems in our country — the transportation system being one, the power and energy system being another — in order to actually solve climate change, we’re going to have to transform those systems,” he told me.” . . .

Ezra Klein | Are We Way Too Timid in the Way We Fight Covid-19? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

 

“Here’s a question I’ve been mulling in recent months: Is Alex Tabarrok right? Are people dying because our coronavirus response is far too conservative?

I don’t mean conservative in the politicized, left-right sense. Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and a blogger at Marginal Revolution, is a libertarian, and I am very much not. But over the past year, he has emerged as a relentless critic of America’s coronavirus response, in ways that left me feeling like a Burkean in our conversations.

He called for vastly more spending to build vaccine manufacturing capacity, for giving half-doses of Moderna’s vaccine and delaying second doses of Pfizer’s, for using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, for the Food and Drug Administration to authorize rapid at-home tests, for accelerating research through human challenge trials. The through line of Tabarrok’s critique is that regulators and politicians have been too cautious, too reluctant to upend old institutions and protocols, so fearful of the consequences of change that they’ve permitted calamities through inaction.

David Lindsay Jr.

David Lindsay Jr.Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:

Excellent op-ed, thank you Ezra Klein You can write! Many be you should podcast less and write more. I never listen to your podcasts, because they take more time than I’m willing to give. A real summary of all podcasts in the opinion section should be required.

Ezra Klein | Joe Biden’s Approach: Speak Softly, and Carry a Big Agenda – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“American politics feels quieter with Joe Biden in the White House. The president’s Twitter feed hasn’t gone dark, but it’s gone dull. Biden doesn’t pick needless fights or insert himself into cultural conflicts. It’s easy to go days without hearing anything the president has said, unless you go looking.

But the relative quiet is deceptive: Policy is moving at a breakneck pace. The first weeks of the Biden administration were consumed by a flurry of far-reaching executive orders that reopened America to refugees, rejoined the Paris climate accords and killed the Keystone XL oil pipeline, to name just a few. Now the House has passed, and the Senate is considering, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, a truly sweeping piece of legislation that includes more than a half-dozen policies — like a child tax credit expansion that could cut child poverty by 50 percent — that would be presidency-defining accomplishments on their own.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
This op-ed is a very good piece– well done, and important. Also, it is not hiding behind a lengthy podcast. It was perhaps low to put opening the country to refugees as the first Biden accomplishment, especially since the deluge appears to be more accidental and thoughtless than planned or expected. Returning to podcasts which this journalist Ezra Klein likes, there are several aspects of the podcasts that don’t work for me. They aren’t always labelled in the headline as a Podcasts. They do not have, but need, a concise printed summary. Now, you have to scan an extremely long, verbose, unedited transcript. Each podcast should have a comments section, so we can complain or cheer right there, about the new mixed media, trying to mix in with print news and opinion.

Ezra Klein | Texas Is a Rich State in a Rich Country, and Look What Happened – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Mark Felix/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“A few months back, because I really know how to live, I spent a night reading “The Green Swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change.” The report, released in January 2020 by the Bank for International Settlements, argued that central banks, concerned as they are with the stability of prices and financial systems, were negligent if they ignored climate change. The economies we know are inseparable from the long climatic peace in which they were built. But that peace is ending. There are no stable prices in a burning world.

This is one of those papers where the measured language preferred by technocrats strains against the horrors they are trying to describe. What emerges is almost an apocalyptic form of poetry. One line, in particular, has rung in my head for months. “Climate-related risks will remain largely unhedgeable as long as systemwide action is not undertaken.” If you know anything about financial regulators, you know the word “unhedgeable” is an alarm bell shrieking into the night. Financial systems are built to hedge risk. When a global risk is unhedgeable, the danger it poses is existential.

The point of the report is simply this: The world’s economic systems teeter atop “backward-looking risk assessment models that merely extrapolate historical trends.” But the future will not be like the past. Our models are degrading by the day, and we don’t understand — we don’t want to understand — how much in society could topple when they fail, and how much suffering that could bring. One place to start is by recognizing how fragile the basic infrastructure of civilization is even now, in this climate, in rich countries.

Which brings me to Texas. Two facts from that crisis have gotten less attention than they deserve. First, the cold in Texas was not a generational climatic disaster. The problem, as Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental analyst at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote in his newsletter, is that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ worst-case scenario planning used a 2011 cold snap that was a one-in-10-year weather event. It wasn’t even the worst cold Texas experienced in living memory: in 1989 temperatures and electricity generation (as a percentage of peak demand) dropped even further than they did in 2011. Texas hadn’t just failed to prepare for the far future. It failed to prepare for the recent past.

Second, it could have been so much worse. Bill Magness, the president and chief executive of ERCOT, said Texas was “seconds and minutes” from complete energy system collapse — the kind where the system needs to be rebuilt, not just rebooted. “If we had allowed a catastrophic blackout to happen, we wouldn’t be talking today about hopefully getting most customers their power back,” Mr. Magness said. “We’d be talking about how many months it might be before you get your power back.”

This was not the worst weather imaginable and this was not the worst outcome imaginable. Climate change promises far more violent events to come. But this is what it looks like when we face a rare-but-predictable stretch of extreme weather, in a rich state in a rich country. The result was nearly 80 deaths — and counting — including an 11-year-old boy found frozen in his bed. I can barely stand to write those words.” . . .

Ezra Klein | Trump and His Party Made the Storming of the Capitol Possible – The New York Times

“. . . .  Trump’s great virtue, as a public figure, is his literalism. His statements may be littered with lies, but he is honest about who he is and what he intends. When he lost the Iowa caucus to Cruz in 2016, he declared that “Ted Cruz didn’t win Iowa, he stole it.” When it seemed likely he would lose the presidential election to Hillary Clinton, he began calling the election rigged. When he wanted the president of Ukraine to open a corruption investigation into Joe Biden, he made the demand directly, on a taped call. When he was asked, during the presidential debates in 2020, if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event of a loss, he refused. There was no subterfuge from Trump leading up to the terrible events of Jan. 6. He called this shot, over and over again, and then he took it.

The Republican Party that has aided and abetted Trump is all the more contemptible because it fills the press with quotes making certain that we know that it knows better. In a line that will come to define this sordid era (and sordid party), a senior Republican told The Washington Post, “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change.” What happened on Wednesday in Washington is the downside. Millions of Americans will take you literally. They will not know you are “humoring” the most powerful man in the world. They will feel betrayed and desperate. Some of them will be armed.

The Trump era has often come wrapped in a cloak of self-protective irony. We have been asked to separate the man from his tweets, to believe that Trump doesn’t mean what he says, that he doesn’t intend to act on his beliefs, that he isn’t what he obviously is. Any divergence between word and reality has been enlisted into this cause. That Trump has failed to achieve much of what he promised because of his incompetence and distractibility has been recast as a sign of a more cautious core. The constraints placed upon him by other institutions or bureaucratic actors have been reframed as evidence that he never intended to follow through on his wilder pronouncements. This was a convenient fiction for the Republican Party, but it was a disastrous fantasy for the country. And now it has collapsed.

When the literalists rushed the chamber, Pence, Cruz and Hawley were among those who had to be evacuated, for their own safety. Some of their compatriots, like Senator Kelly Loeffler, rescinded their objections to the election, seemingly shaken by the beast they had unleashed. But there is no real refuge from the movement they fed. Trump’s legions are still out there, and now they are mourning a death and feeling yet more deceived by many of their supposed allies in Washington, who turned on them as soon as they did what they thought they had been asked to do.

The problem isn’t those who took Trump at his word from the start. It’s the many, many elected Republicans who took him neither seriously nor literally, but cynically. They have brought this upon themselves — and us.”