Monday, June 8, 2015


Psychologists call it cognitive dissonance. It describes any one of a number of psychological states, but, among Democrats today it refers to a visceral disgust with the Clintons coupled with an eagerness to put Hillary in the White House.

Frank Bruni did not use the term “cognitive dissonance” in his op-ed column yesterday, but his analysis of the state of mind of serious Democrats is excellent. Between Bruni and Ross Douthat we have reason to believe that the future of the Times op-ed page will be brighter and smarter.

Bruni opens his column:

LATELY I’ve been running into people even more put off by the Clintons than the nefarious operatives in the “vast right wing conspiracy” ever were.

They’re called Democrats.

I had breakfast with one last week. I’d quote him directly, but The Times doesn’t permit profanity.

He’s furious at Hillary and Bill, because they’ve once again created all these ugly, obvious messes that they could and should have avoided. He’s disgusted, because he has come to believe that they’re tainted.

He’s also resolute: He’s voting — even rooting — for Hillary.

Bruni offers an excellent description of the man’s cognitive dissonance:

So here he stands, or rather squirms, exhilarated by what Hillary embodies and repelled by what she represents, wanting to see her take the oath and wanting never to lay eyes on her and Bill again, determined that they reclaim the White House and despairing of the muddy road there and the certain muck beyond. He’s a riot of warring emotions, a paradox with a pulse.

Now, how does said individual rationalize his decision to support Hillary? There’s a quantity of liberal guilt, a feeling that his vote should serve to help overcome patriarchal sexism, and a sense that the Clintons are the lesser of two evils:

Party loyalty motivates him. On top of which, he’s worried about the Supreme Court and how a Republican president might pack it.

And he keeps hearing the voices of little girls in his life who have asked him whether a woman can be president of the United States in reality, not just on some TV show.

He wants them to see: Yes, she can.

Nice choice of words: "pack" the Supreme Court. Of course, the only president who tried that was Franklin Roosevelt. Unless someone changes the constitution, no president is going to "pack" the Supreme.

Besides, haven't we elected someone president based on how good we will feel about having overcome our past bigotry?

How did that work out?

If you elect someone who is unqualified and manifestly incompetent solely because of his race you will feel good for having overcome racism but you will be producing another kind of racism. In the new racism people will believe that black Americans owe their positions to affirmative action, but are really not up to their jobs.

Someone should ask whether Hillary can do the job and whether her ascendance will help or hurt the reputation of women in the workforce.

Bruni’s friend knows what that a President Hillary will visit calamities on the nation and the world. And he cares so much that his mind is becoming a battleground of conflicting thoughts.

But, someone who feels that the worst thing that can happen to the nation is that there might be one or two more conservatives on the Supreme Court is not thinking very clearly. He is not thinking about what is good for America or even the world. He is thinking about his own tribal loyalty and about being ideologically correct.

For his part Bruni believes that putting the Clintons back in the White House will do nothing good. More precisely, they will inflict psychological torture on us:

And it’s different from politics as usual. It’s politics as a peculiar form of psychological torture, because the Clintons have a way — it’s their trademark — of being the best, most exciting vessel for people’s hopes even as they make those people feel icky about their investment in the couple.

His friend does not seem to care about what happens to the country as long as he can tell his daughters that a woman can become president.

In principle, serious Democrats should be trying their best to find an alternative. It would attenuate their angst. By now, however, they have been tricked into going all-in on Hillary and feel that they must honor their commitment, regardless of how good or bad it will be for the country. Who cares about the country when you can strike a blow against sexism?

Bruni writes:

At some point over the last year Democrats placed just about all of their chips on Hillary, reassured by the depth of her experience, aware of how much money she could raise, and inspired by what a perfect sequel to Barack Obama she’d be. He broke the color barrier. Now she’d shatter the glass ceiling that she put all those cracks in.

What “depth of experience?” A series of failures in jobs she was not equal to.

When Bill Clinton touts the wonderful work of his foundation, even Democrats no longer believe any of it.

Bruni describes Bill Clinton’s defense of his foundation:

His words were a reminder that perhaps no other former president has lavished so much travel and star power on such an ambitious engine of good deeds. The foundation is an exemplar.

Until you peek inside and behold a convoluted braid of public service and personal aggrandizement, a queasy-making brew of altruism and vanity, a mechanism for employing loyalists and rewarding friends, a bazaar for favor trading. Straightforward admiration is no longer possible.

Bruni also discussed the issue with another senior Democrat. He describes the conversation:

A few days ago I spoke with one Democratic elder who ranted, like my breakfast companion, about all the ammunition that the Clintons had needlessly created for a Republican nominee.

He envisioned a flood of negative ads in Florida and Ohio about State Department emails, speaking fees and foreign donations. He said that this deluge could very well make a difference.

He was livid.

Would that keep him from campaigning for Hillary?

No, he said. Even if he couldn’t count on her, she could count on him.

It didn’t seem fair.

It’s fairly obvious now that if Elizabeth Warren can find a justification for going back on her declarations of non-candidacy, Hillary’s dreams will go up in smoke.

As for the cognitive dissonance of Bruni’s Democrat friends, one suspects that they are suffering a severe case of Republicanophobia?

They will accept anything, but not a Republican.


Sam L. said...

Hate is such a strong and clearly overwhelming emotion.

Ares Olympus said...

re: Party loyalty motivates him. On top of which, he’s worried about the Supreme Court and how a Republican president might pack it.

Myself, I'd vote for a Republican president over Hillery as long as he isn't a neocon or social conservative, but that's hard-pickings. Probably Rand Paul is the only shots? And I'm not even a Libertarian.

But even if a social conservative won and got a pro-life majority on the court, the MOST they would do I expect is say "abortion isn't a federal issue, let the states decide" and we can further accelerate our red/blue state divisions in preparation for the great dividing when south again tries to go its own way, and the north says "Good riddance".

That's all be a great excuse to reset all the debt in a Jubilee. The main problem with a jubilee is that my debt is your wealth, so that's wealth redistribution. Oh well.

I'm pretty sure whomever becomes president in 2017 will become closer to a dictator than FDR before he or she leaves office. I just don't see how things continue much longer.

Anonymous said...

Is there a Republican with a credible plan to create good jobs, increase wages, and boost the prospects of the middle class that is not a retread of old and apparently failed Republican policies leading up to the 2008 financial crisis? Was it smart to impose a debt ceiling and kill the cash flow that has to go through the government if banks do not want to lend to nonbanks with bad balance sheets? Why shouldn't one fear ignorant leaders?

Dennis said...

One might find this interesting.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Anonymous @June 8, 2015 at 7:09 PM:

Is there a Democrat with a credible plan to create jobs, increase wages and boost prospects of the middle class that is not a retread of old and apparently failed Democrat policies of the 1970s? Was it smart to relieve any sense of fiscal responsibility and run up the national debt endlessly and drive up commodity prices in a 0% interest environment and continue to give Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Sallie Mae the kind of blank check guarantees that create these bubbles in the first place? Is it smart to fuel an overall economic policy that destroys the middle class because rich people and poor people alike get subsidized? Why shouldn't one fear ignorant leaders?

Why do you place so much faith in politicians of either party? Why do we continue to grow this federal leviathan that is destroying our way of life? Do you really think it's just Republicans? If you say yes, you are a fool. If you say it's both parties, then please stop voting for people who want to make government bigger. It is government competing with the private sector for resources that is bleeding us all dry.

Stop the ride! I want to get off.

Obamanomics is helping both the plutocrats and the underclass. The middle class will cease to exist if we keep requiring them to pay for the entitlement programs while simultaneously making the plutocrats happy by hampering wage growth in middle class jobs. We have to look at value in employment again or we'll all be replaced by robots because people will either (a) not want to work and instead collect a government check, or (b) be too expensive to employ. The traditional labor market balanced these two realities. In other words, stop yammering about $15 per hour at unskilled jobs like McDonald's. McDonald's is a labor market entry point, not a career. Stop the 0% Fed madness... it's an addiction. Stop creating and expanding entitlement programs. All these things kill the middle class.

Wake up. It's lunacy.

Anonymous said...

If you understand how cash flows to finance long term investment and put a price floor under wages must be managed either by rolling over bank lending or via progressive taxes or rolling over the federal debt via government investments, then you would know that Bernie Sanders actually has some plans that would help the middle class. These are old ideas going back to the 1940s, 50s, and 60s although a newer idea, a federal jobs guarantee with living wages and health benefits, would do more to help the country than tax cuts for billionaires and casino-investment managers on Wall Street.

Ares Olympus said...

Perhaps an ex-republican turned democrat will be the "moderate" who can detrack Hillary's nomination for democrats who want a drama-free moderate republican-leaning democrat than Hillary? Lincoln Chafee, former Republican senator and current Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about his decision to leave the Republican Party during the Bush administration, and his assessment of the Republican competition in 2016.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Anonymous @June 9, 2015 at 8:14 PM:

Thank you for your prescription: inflate the economy. Again, it is a re-hash of the 1970s denouement for Keynsian economics.

Your idea that the government makes "investments" is absurd. 71% of the $4 trillion Federal budget goes toward entitlement spending. Those aren't "investments," those are transfer payments. And even in spending $4 trillion, we the government still spends more than it takes in, because "need has no season." Funny how with ever-increasing revenues, our "public servants" still find a way to spend more than we have. But no bother, the Chinese will just buy more of our treasury bills to finance it, at the expense of future generations when the Chinese will expect it paid back... with interest. There's social justice for you: spend more money than we have so we can give transfer payments to the people who elected these bums... our kids and grandkids will pick up the tab. And we lament that this next generation may be the first generation to do worse than the one prior. What ridiculous emotional hand washing. We know what we're doing. We don't care abut the next generation. Or even better, let's have "The Rich" pay for it all. That's like the lottery: it's a tax on people who can't do math. We could confiscate all the wealth of "The Rich" and barely make a dent.

As for tax cuts to billionaires and "casino" Wall Street, I'm with you. But the rest of your potpourri of neo-socialist ideas does not address what I was talking about in my response. No one can guarantee a job. A "living wage" is a slogan from community organizers and the economic geniuses who populate urban city councils. Single-payer healthcare leads to an increase in medical demand and thereafter comes rationing, so we get poor health with less care.

What part of "There is no such thing as a free lunch" do you not understand? Sure, I understand an ideology centered around "no new taxes" causes problems, but so does your idea that the all-powerful, all-knowing "government" as provider for all. The government literally creates no value. Politicians take in the money, and give it to their allies in the growing bureaucracy and to their friends in the form of tax credits, set-asides, subsidies, crony regulations and pork projects like the perennial appeal for more "jobs training programs." All this largesse to buy political groups creates massive moral hazard, we get sclerotic economic growth, and we start turning down our thermostats because we have no balls to think or act for ourselves. Sounds like a great future. Perhaps you should author position papers for the Sanders campaign.

And lastly, please stop prattling on about the middle class while talking about Sanders' economic program, as it is disastrous for the middle class. The middle class is the vast majority of economic contributors and value-creators in our society. They don't need an employment guarantee because they create value in their labor. They earn far more than any ludicrous wage figure a sociologist can come up with for an hourly wage. And when you raise the mandated wage floor, you reduce the value of the middle class wage-earner. And they're already contributing to their healthcare through salary deductions and co-pays that keep going up and up, or for skyrocketing premiums for the self-employed. Why? Because the vast majority of government programs people like Bernie Sanders favor go to the underclass and impoverished who don't work, the disabled and elderly who don't work, and the wealthy who collect interest on their investments. So the middle class gets squeezed, and the policies you seem to favor will squeeze them more. That's the problem.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

As for the future, this is a Demoblican and Republicrat problem. But since we're talking about Republicanophobia, let's turn our gaze to the Democrat field...

Hillary is a crook and a liar. Bernie Sanders is a socialist loon. O'Malley never saw a government spending program he didn't like and the middle class would have to pay for (n a state where most of the jobs are funded by the Federal government... which we have to pay for). And Lincoln Chafee thinks it'd be really cool to take us to the metric system, now that he's finally settled on a political party where he fits in. So it's he 1970s platform all over again... complete with kilometers. All we need is Hillary trumpeting about an Equal Rights Amendment and we'll have the whole smash.

Other than that, the Democratic field is outstanding, falling all over each other to see who can spend more money the Chinese give us with T-bills, and who can secure more group identities than the other. I can now understand your Republicanophobia. After all, the Republican party is the party of "The Rich," right? "The Rich" have never done so well with Obama's 0% interest rates. I'm sure that's Bush's fault, too.

Anonymous said...

I am not talking about the 1970s, you are. It is true that government transfers are probably necessary for stagflation: high unemployment and rising inflation.

I am saying the features of government and finance that are correlated with the greatest middle class prosperity in the history of the world can be identified with the decades of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. There were periods of inflation there too however the conditions necessary for stable finance and middle class prosperity appear to be correlated with high government spending, progressive taxation, strong financial regulations, and policies that support industrial/government investment with high share of national income flowing to labor as the wage share of income. We can't go back to a world-economy with the features of the era, but we can recognize that a person who takes a 15-30 year mortgage needs cash flow without downward wage adjustments to avoid default, and a firm that invests in long term assets needs cash flow to avoid bankruptcy. So to avoid massive bankruptcy in a system that makes long term financial commitments the government must have policies that ensure profits, wages, and cash flow to validate long term debt.

Free market ideology wants wages and prices to be downward flexible yet ignores the adverse social consequences of systemic bankruptcy in a society that requires long term financial commitments to be honored from future cash flows.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I don't believe in the free market. The market is an ass. I believe in free enterprise, which is focused on opportunity for the kinds of creative entrepreneurs our country needs to grow and compete through better products and services.

We can keep going around with non-distinctions, but Keynesian economics will not work as it may have in the past. Stagflation is the natural consequence of "too much of a good thing is just enough" as a hangover from the 40s, 50s and 60s, as you describe, when our economy was the only game in town globally. You were talking about periods of inflation, but you certainly recognize that inflation is the cruelest tax on the middle class because it destroys savings, incentivizes get-rich-quick behavior and keeps middle earners on a perpetual treadmill. Sure, we can ask the Fed to shoot for full employment, but at what cost? That's why we have unemployment insurance... because our economy and labor markets operate best at 5% unemployment. The REAL 5% unemployment, not today's Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment figure, which doesn't count people who have stopped looking for work because they're so discouraged. That's the consequence of Obamanomics and his healthcare, 0% Fed funds rate, merciless regulation, and this absurd idea of 99 weeks of unemployment insurance which retards the labor markets. Otherwise, we're fine because we're living in a time of "hope and change" that leaves hopelessness in its wake. Business owners don't have the visibility they need to hire. They have no idea what their employment cost structure will look like. Employees are investments in future profits, not altruistic jobs programs. Obama doesn't get that. He doesn't think entrepreneurs "built that." He thinks America works for him.

I understand how bankruptcy works, and I have an idea of what the Keynesian ideal is. But if a little tax-and-spend "investment" works, why not a lot of it? That's where we are: we have A LOT of it. And the greatest threat to the profits, wages and cash flow is the tax and regulatory regime we have now. I'm NOT talking about tax cuts to stimulate growth, which is as dumb as government spending to stimulate growth. The government doesn't contribute anything. It takes and redistributes. The government thinks it's still operating in this marionette-like economic world where it gets to be important. The government should be doing everything it can to encourage free enterprise and act as a referee in markets to ensure the kind of equal opportunity free enterprise demands. But it's not. No way. Instead, it is behaving as a bona fide economic actor, competing with the private sector for resources. On top of that, we spend recklessly, incur more and more debt and bond interest payments, and release absurdly burdensome regulation on things like protecting snails. Lawyers have run amok, to the point where a loan closing document or conditions of a bank note have to now read hundreds of pages to counter the minuscule loopholes people have sought in their contracts. It's made business so burdensome. It is much harder to start a business today, and that is the foundation of free enterprise: how hard is it to start a business? I want GE, Ford and Home Depot to do well, but the citizen needs to have liberty to pursue his opportunity and have his talents take him as far as they will. There are lots of barriers to that today, and it's because of the amalgam of laws and regulations that now form the "Bureaucracy Full Employment Act(s)."

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Lastly, the good thing about bankruptcy is that it allows you to clear the market. Sound, orderly bankruptcy principles allow a recovery to start quickly. We've had a slow recovery because we've created these legal and regulatory barriers to calling loads and foreclosure. The banks/lenders cannot get the paper and properties off their books in an expeditious, orderly manner, and then get started again. We are trying to soften the landing for people who cannot afford their loans/homes that we make it impossible for the economy to take off. We turn ourselves into pretzels for deadbeats and prevent them from taking the faster path to a new start so we can take off... so we can fly. We have sheriffs who won't do their jobs and carry out eviction and foreclosure notices because it's "mean." That is insane. This isn't theory, this is real, in-your-face reality that is the tragedy of American "compassion." It is NOT compassionate to have someone struggle and put their life on hold for a home they were never able to afford in the first place unless they got the sub-prime standard paper Wall Street demanded while it used the implicit government guarantee on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac home loans to bundle them and sell them as mortgage-backed securities. That's what Wall Street does: it seeks to make money. The problem was the implicit government guarantee of Fan and Fred that enabled Wall Street to do this on such a scale that it wrecked the economy when the implicit guarantee became explicit and we had to bail all the banks out and then regulate the commercial banks as de facto public utilities and subject loans for normal people to onerous regulation which then screws the middle class citizen who the politicians now claim to represent in pressuring Fan and Fred to make these loans so we can go through this mess all over again! It's madness.

So if these are "adverse social consequences," I agree. But the economy is not a social program. We have social programs to help people get back on their feet. But social programs have become entitlements. And human beings being human beings, people demand more and more and more until it's not about getting people back on their feet, it's about giving people the consequence-free life they want. The best social program ever invented is a job. And the 2009-10 Democratic Party and Democratic Congress and Democratic President made it clear to everyone they weren't interested in jobs, they were interested in passing a horrible, half-baked nuttier sandwich bill called Obamacare to fulfill plank on the Democratic platform that'd been there since the 1940s. It's wasn't about jobs, it was about securing a new entitlement, just the kind of entitlement everyone says we can't afford more of, but we did it anyway.

We can have "long term financial commitments to be honored from future cash flows," but we would be wise to look at what's become of our government spending and entitlement programs and the vicious bloodsport that is going on for competition for available resources between the public and private sectors. We cannot afford more government spending. Progressive taxation leads to an entitlement mentality for both rich and poor (EITC + tac loopholes = massive corruption). Strong financial regulations inhibit free enterprise. Policies of industrial/government investment are going to be transformed in this global economy where we sign ridiculous free trade agreements that destroy the middle class. All the while, we have this preposterous public education system that is preparing fewer and fewer students for the kinds of jobs we're going to need to compete. Otherwise, we'll just get more haves and have nots and pander to them, which is what the two main American political parties do oh so well. And the answer is not a third party, the answer is to rein-in the beast and reduce Federal power.

Anonymous said...

The metric system is based on principles of measurement which are always determined by arbitrary standards or customs. However, the SI units are designed to be a coherent system of units. This means if one applies standard SI units there are no conversion factors (numbers) in the equations. One can work with pure symbols to represent quantities. Due to the advantages of coherent units the SI units are customarily required for participation in advanced science and engineering work.

The dollar is just an abstract unit or symbol with no physical significance but great moral significance to each person who has a different opinion about how governments, banks, and financial systems ought to work while generating and destroying dollars and dollar-denominated finance contracts. Capitalism has a long history of success and failure due to the complexities of organic government and financial systems.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

This is an absurd example of exactly what I'm talking about with free enterprise, at a tender age:

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Anonymous @June 10, 2015 at 12:39 PM:

Regarding your metric comment: The metric system IS a system of measurement. It is based on basic values and then denominated in units of zeroes. My comment on Chafee is that he is a silly person... whether it's a kilometer or a mile is silly. Changing all the signs is stupid make-work. It makes no difference to me that a kilometer is 1,000 meters. A mile is a mile. And I don't give a crap whether we're the only country in the world in the Engkish system. We're the only country in the world doing lots of things.

Regarding your comment on the dollar/capitalism: Whatever. There are billions of opinions. We have to arrive at something that works. Everything is described as "complex." Supply and demand is really quite simple.

Anonymous said...

Coherent SI units eliminate all conversion factors other than the number "1" which is implied in the symbolic equations, so it does not appear in equations either. The application of this principle in the design of SI units makes this a more appealing system of units for collaborative science and engineering. I prefer to think in terms of mile per hour and feet per second, etc., for practical applications. However it is much easier to design and evaluate system models when working only in coherent SI units.

A poor or middle class person born into society is expected to take some sort of education or skill as a child, work for so many years, save for retirement, and either spend the income from investments or reduce the corpus of savings to live in retirement. This is a three period model for the individual.

In the real economy there are no things that are equivalent to abstract dollars. We can assign gold or silver coins and call that "dollars." Or we can assign liabilities of the central bank as "dollars." In a system of free enterprise, after society invents double-entry book keeping, then history shows there will be firms that we call "banks" which create more dollars from thin air via credit contracts with their customers. The supply of dollars increases when a banker thinks a borrower is sufficiently creditworthy to repay a loan, however, no one has a crystal ball, and even the most honest borrower is subject to cash flow problems in the future, so statistically we know some of these loans will default. The banker is thus operating a casino in which many loans (cash flow bets) are expected to repay over time while others are expected to fail, but the bad loan expense is not expected to wipe out profits, or else the bank owners would lose equity and there would be a run on the bank, putting it out of business and destroying savings of depositors who did not withdraw early enough in this game.

Thus free enterprise capitalism results in episodic bank failure which cannot be blamed on governments, because bankers and customers create the unstable financial system even if there is minimum government regulation. This means the poor, middle class, and rich are playing a statistical game via formation and destruction of financial contracts. The government could be charged with efforts to stabilize the financial system and assist with full employment or a safety net such that a more or less honest individual has a fair chance to be productive during life and plan for retirement.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The 2007 bank failure was caused by the United States government guarantee in consumer residential mortgages. It is that simple. Interest rates were so low that people couldn't make any money off standard yield instruments. In come the Wall Street bankers selling MBS and CDO instruments which had higher yields and were guaranteed money because the implicit government backing of said mortgages. So you've got a choice: you can buy a T-bill at, say, 3.0%, backed by the full faith and credit if the United States government, and a MBS at 3.25% with the implicit guarantee that it'll be backed up by the United States government. Which one are you going to pick? It's massive moral hazard. You couldn't get these Wall Street guys any jail time because they were acting legally within the system of consumer mortgages and bundling those instruments into a new animal called a MBS. It was that simple. The implicit became explicit, we got the Great Recession and the rest is history. And the politicians lecture the bankers? On making money? On financial decisions? With trillions and trillions of of national debt? Please.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Actually, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson let Bear Stearns fail because of his concerns about moral hazard, and the government being left on the hook for a bailout. He thought Wall Street would get the hint, but the MBS/CDO craze was too far gone when it came time for Lehman Brothers' turn. The whole thing was spiraling out of control. I said I was free enterprise, not the free market, laissez faire model. The government had to step in, and TARP was a sensible structure to contain risk. But the moral hazard of bank failures is real, I acknowledge that. But we can get serious, effective banking regulation while not turning banks into public utilities. That's crazy. And a government that is recklessly running up debt and simultaneously turning banks into wards of the state is amoral, hypocritical and preposterous.

Anonymous said...

I do not dispute that government cash flow insurance causes moral hazard. However the free enterprise system also causes moral hazard even with minimal government.

In any case banks are licensed by society, either by written law or by unwritten custom, to create and destroy financial instruments by making credit deals. There is no reason not to see banks as government utilities if they issue FDIC insured deposits that are ultimately backed by a line of credit from FDIC to Treasury and by Fed as Lender of Last Resort.

I don't worry about the size of the national debt since I recently realized it is functionally equivalent to insured savings at banks. Furthermore the government is somewhat accountable via the political process to spread its spending around the country where needed. So government deficit spending it is another source of moral hazard similar to the banking system but on balance both schemes are essentially a "public good."