Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mom, the century's broken! I wasn't even TOUCHING it!

No idea what the source of this is. Via.

David F. Brooks, "This Century is Broken", February 21 2017:

Most of us came of age in the last half of the 20th century and had our perceptions of “normal” formed in that era. 
This turns out to be true, although it's extremely close. Due to a dwindling birth rate, the median age is 38 (it was 31 as recently as 1985), so about half of us turned 21 before 1999, and if we agree that the 21st century began in 2001 (and in fact I'm not putting up with any disagreement on this, so shut up), then it's clear that a majority are immigrants from the 20th. But it's a very narrow one, which will have vanished before the next presidential election.

I'm not finding any sources for this odd little fact, and it's possible Brooks just made it up; the fact that it's true would be just a coincidence.

It was, all things considered, an unusually happy period. No world wars, no Great Depressions, fewer civil wars, fewer plagues.
It might be more accurate to say that the previous half-century had been an unusually sad period, since it experienced most or all of the world wars (I think the French wars of 1792 through 1814 count as one, but the authorities don't seem to) and all of the Great Depressions in human history.

But Wikipedia lists about 51 civil wars worldwide between 1800 and 1950, and 58 between 1950 and 2000, a crude indication that there may have been well over three times as many civil wars during the happy period than in comparable time spans since the beginning of the modern era. Enough of them, from Korea at the beginning of the period to Kosovo at its end, involved outside military forces from NATO and the Warsaw Pact or China that they might be thought to have constituted a world war in their own right.

The plagues question could be a little iffy too, but let's move on.

The burden of the column seems to be that happy days are gone again and the new half-century is already FUBAR, as we learn from a new essay by the American Enterprise Institute political economist Nicholas Eberstadt “Our Miserable 21st Century,”, which sees a sudden decline in economic growth rates in the US, starting with that turn of the millennium, and a newish book by George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen "(The Complacent Class,”), according to which Americans have lost their mojo, and don't seek jobs across state lines as often as they used to do.

The moral of the story is that it's time to stop resisting Donald Trump, which I thought he had already done on Friday, and think of something else to do:

The Eberstadt piece confirms one thought: The central task for many of us now is not to resist Donald Trump. He’ll seal his own fate. It’s to figure out how to replace him — how to respond to the slow growth and social disaffection that gave rise to him with some radically different policy mix.
Just like Chaffetz on General Flynn, a week ago!

Chaffetz was half right! (Sorry, there's definitely a need for further investigation, but something certainly took care of itself.) Does Brooks know something we don't know? That hardly seems likely.

Brooks thinks we should come up with some ideas, but offers none:

Who has a compelling plan to boost economic growth? If Trump is not the answer, what is?
I'll tell you one thing, which involves praising President Ronald Reagan, or the minders who told him what to do, following the 1982 recession and subsequent congressional elections in which Democrats solidified their majorities; the Reagan administration was persuaded to drop its insistence on immense tax cuts for the rich and "shrinking" government and instead to raise taxes (very substantially) and collaborate with Democrats in embarking on enormous Keynesian spending programs, as Dr. Krugman has explained, which gave the decade of the 1980s one of the highest GDP growth rates on record:
(1) Average Growth Rate 1921–1930: 1.27%
(2) Average Growth Rate 1911–1920: 1.28%
(3) Average Growth Rate 1931–1940: 1.54%
(4) Average Growth Rate 1871–1880: 1.64%
(5) Average Growth Rate 1881–1890: 1.65%
(6) Average Growth Rate 1951–1960: 1.75%
(7) Average Growth Rate 1991–2000: 1.94%
(8) Average Growth Rate 1891–1900: 2.04%
(9) Average Growth Rate 1901–1910: 2.13%
(10) Average Growth Rate 1971–1980: 2.16%
(11) Average Growth Rate 1981–1990: 2.26%
(12) Average Growth Rate 1961–1970: 2.88%
(13) Average Growth Rate 1941–1950: 3.87%.
It was actually in the budget-balancing end-of-big-government 1990s, under President Bill Clinton and the emerging Republican congressional majority, that growth began sliding under 2%, not in 2000 when all those other people started turning 21.

A big reason why Americans are less adventurous than David F. Brooks was when he set out on the metaphorical surfboard to catch the Reagan wave and went to work for old Mr. Buckley in 1983—

Americans used to be entrepreneurial, but there has been a decline in start-ups as a share of all business activity over the last generation. Millennials may be the least entrepreneurial generation in American history. The share of Americans under 30 who own a business has fallen 65 percent since the 1980s.
Americans tell themselves the old job-for-life model is over. But in fact Americans are switching jobs less than a generation ago, not more. The job reallocation rate — which measures employment turnover — is down by more than a quarter since 1990.
—is that there just isn't enough money any more. No cushions, no escape hatches, and the hopelessness of continually increasing inequality (I insist Obama tried to counter that, and did win some sensible tax hikes on the wealthy, but was powerless against Republican congressional majorities to do what was really needed). Young people seek security in a world that seems determined not to help them out. If they find a decent job they cling to it.

It's Keynesian spending that gave us those growth rates in most of the time from World War II through the mid-90s, as well as reducing inequality in unprecedented ways in the earlier part of the period.

There was a compelling if somewhat timid start to a plan to increase economic growth and decrease economic inequality—to boost G over R in Piketty terms—in the recent presidential campaign, and more Americans favored it, but gerrymandering, Russians, and Director Comey wouldn't let us have it. It was a return to the generous governmental style of the late 20th century.

It's just ridiculous for Brooks to keep idealizing those 50 years as he continues to denounce the economics that made it work. If the century is "broken", it's people like him, in the 1990s, who irreparably broke it.

The eminent real economist Dean Baker has stepped in to annihilate some Brooksian fake facts (h/t Driftglass), so there's that. 

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