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Posted on November 2 at 10:27 a.m.
JohnLocke, try reading my bio, linked to at the top of the article, for my background.
On The Case for Obama
Posted on November 1 at 10:36 p.m.
Botany, looks like you missed the point of my statement from the get-go. I was not suggesting that Obama should get any credit for effectively re-financing the debt (though he's had something to do with it through his role as boss of the Treasury). Rather, I'm simply suggesting that b/c he has effectively re-financed the debt that the interest burden of that debt is half what it was in the 1990s. And that gives some perspective on the current hyperbolic rhetoric from his critics.
Posted on November 1 at 11 a.m.
Botany, I haven't backed away from my statement that Obama has refinanced the debt. As I explained, he is cycling our debt through to lower interest rates, which is effectively the same as re-financing. Interestingly, one advantage of inflation is that it makes our debt smaller without actually doing anything, so deflation is in many ways a bigger threat than inflation. But, again, inflation is not a problem at this point in time and I anticipate the open-ended QE3 and zero interest rate target will change when/if inflation rears its ugly head.
Posted on October 30 at 10:19 p.m.
Botany, you're misunderstanding the respective roles of the White House and the Fed. Yes, the Fed is an independent entity with some congressional oversight, and yes it sets some interest rates and has various other buttons and levers that collectively are known as "monetary policy." Congress and the White House control "fiscal policy" - spending and taxation.
The Fed doesn't actually set interest rates, however. Rather, it has various tools, mostly bond purchases, that effectively set interest rates in some areas through market forces. In turn, many other consumer interest rates follow, at least as a general matter, the Fed-influence interest rates. There's a close correlation between the ten-year Treasury interest rate and mortgage rates, for example.
However, you are wrong when you write that "Treasury issues its debt through policies set by the Federal Reserve." The Treasury is independent of the Fed, but of course under the control of the White House. So the Treasury issues debt into markets that are strongly influenced by the Fed due to the Fed's role in influencing interest rates. QE3 is of course an ongoing securitized mortgage purchasing program designed to keep mortgage rates low for an extended time b/c the general feeling is that the current recovery, as with most recoveries, must be a housing-led recovery. QE1 and 2 were, however, mostly bond purchasing programs that kept interest rates low more generally, and thus indirectly kept mortgage rates low. The point here, however, is that the Fed definitely plays a large role in federal borrowing and interest rates, in various ways, but it does so independently of the White House and it does not issue debt itself. Rather, it buys debt issued by the Treasury and other agencies.
Whether the Fed's bond and MBS purchasing sprees are wise long term remains to be seen. For now, however, the inflation bogeyman is well under control, and this is the traditional downside to quantitative easing or printing money more directly. So it seems that the policies the Fed is pursuing now can continue for some time without the traditional inflationary fears. And the federal government can continue for some time with borrowing at record-low interest rates, particularly in this time of economic struggle - a traditional Keynesian perspective that has been borne out empirically in recent years, as Krugman and others have argued for some time.
Again, these arguments are not to excuse borrowing or to make it sound like borrowing isn't a problem - borrowing IS a problem. But, as I write in my article, it's just not the problem that Obama's critics make it out be at this point in time. To argue that the debt and deficit are the biggest impediments to economic growth at this time is simply wrong.
Posted on October 29 at 10:16 a.m.
Botany, both the federal government, through various departments and agencies, but mostly Treasury, issues debt. The Fed often buys that debt, and is currently holding about half of the federal debt. The debt cycles over time, effectively being re-financed, so when interest rates stay low over an extended time, as they are now, the entire debt is over time being re-financed. Treasury also began issuing 30-year bonds again a couple of years ago, so this bodes well for keeping the debt interest payments at a relatively low level over an extended period.
Posted on October 11 at 12:30 p.m.
Muggy, I guess we can safely agree to disagree and part ways. If you don't agree that freedom is axiomatic - and that democracy is a substantial and necessary part of freedom - then we don't have much to discuss.
On Wiki Government
Posted on October 11 at 9:34 a.m.
DrDan, if we do $billions of online commerce each year and figure out the security risks we can do wiki democracy. I'm not a security expert so I can't give you specifics - not my department. I agree it is the biggest issue facing online voting, but it's being done many places in the world now and the record is quite good. Also, wiki democracy, when it starts to spread in the US, will start at the local level and security issues will be minimal. As we learned from experience at the local level, we can move to the state level and eventually the federal level.
As for online voters doing any better than making decisions re complex issues, even if online voters are "no better" (who decides what is better?) than elected officials, I'd be very happy with the switch to direct democracy because rather than having elected officials being elected through the impact of private and union money, controlled by a very few individuals, we would have far more widespread sharing of power - aka a far better democracy.
Re my faith in the wikiterati, it's a similar defense: I believe in freedom/autonomy as an axiomatic value. Conservatives and liberals should be able to agree on this but strangely by far the most criticism I get from my ideas on wiki democracy come from conservatives who almost uniformly state (to paraphrase): crowds are too dumb to rule themselves. I'm not sure how that meshes with freedom as an axiomatic value but I have confidence these views will change over time.
Last, I agree with you that mixing with fellow voters is an important aspect of our democracy. Unfortunately, we've already lost most of that because voters are increasingly voting by mail already, or voting early, and online voting is simply an extension of this new convenience. I think the convenience and the dramatic increase in voter turnout we've already witnessed from online voting (25% seems to be a common figure) outweigh any loss of mingling among voters. We have many venues to mix and talk about civic ideas, in person and online. My feeling is that if we do transition to an online voting wiki democracy in the coming years and decades we'll eventually arrive at a place where 10-20% of the voters are highly active in governance, and the rest observe from afar or simply ignore it. And this is a major improvement over today's system where a tiny minority wields inordinate influence over our government at every level.
Posted on October 9 at 4:34 p.m.
Sorry, the book is called "Future Perfect," not The Future of Progress
Posted on October 9 at 3:53 p.m.
Muggy, a key point of my piece and the subtext here is that we are now living in a system that is far from democratic and is arguably more of a plutocracy than a democracy. Both sides of the aisle agree that money has way too much influence in politics and corruption is widespread and covert, and occasionally overt. The wiki democracy solution is to devolve power to the people directly - as much as is possible. And "as much as is possible" is far more than used to be possible due to the tools we now have available. I highly recommend the book The Future of Progress, which I discuss above briefly.
Posted on October 9 at 12:28 p.m.
Dr. Dan, security issues are readily surmountable but always a threat, to be sure. Of all the experiments in online voting thus far only one has had major issues, a trial in Wash. D.C. that was hacked by outsiders due to an apparently pretty flawed security structure. Estonia's general election has been open for online voting since 2005 and they've had no security issues. In 2011, fully 25% of voters voted online.
You ask if voters are qualified to vote on detailed scientific matters and I would throw this back at you and ask if elected officials are qualified? In both cases, votes will be cast based on expert opinions and I have no reason to believe that the aggregate of online voting will be any worse than elected officials' voting. Why is it the wisdom of the markets (masses) is so readily accepted for financial matters but not for the equally important issues of democracy?
Regardless, in a wiki democracy where all or part of elected officials' responsibilities have been replaced with online voters' aggregate votes, it will still very likely be only 5-10% of eligible voters that vote on most issues. But this would be a dramatic improvement from the system we have today in which 1% of the population (or actually more like 0.01%) exert overwhelming influence through the impact of money in elections and influencing legislative and regulatory processes.
Far better to have a self-selected and transparent online "wikiterati" making decisions than the self-selected and entirely untransparent 0.01% making decisions, from my perspective. This response addresses your next two points it seems.
Last, in terms of what the Founding Fathers intended, I agree that they intended to create a republic, a system of electoral democracy where the masses would be given a very limited amount of power - and none at all if you weren't a landed male. But evidently our notions of democracy have evolved. We now believe (most of us at least) that every human being of a certain age should be able to vote and have some say in their destiny. Wiki democracy simply extends this ascent of freedom by allowing all of us to become progressively more autonomous and participants in our own governance - rather than trusting governance to the elected and unelected officials who have gotten us into the mess we're in now.
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