The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Looks like Keynes is still right

Despite the rise of right-leaning economics ideology, reality stubbornly retains its liberal bias, with further evidence today coming from the latest UK economic figures:

The UK economy has returned to recession, after shrinking by 0.2% in the first three months of 2012.

A sharp fall in construction output was behind the surprise contraction, the Office for National Statistics said.

"The huge cuts to public spending - 25% in public sector housing and 24% in public non-housing and with a further 10% cuts to both anticipated for 2013 - have left a hole too big for other sectors to fill," said Judy Lowe, deputy chairman of industry body CITB-ConstructionSkills, said.

Or, as Krugman points out, the Conservative's austerity measures have worked no better in the UK than anywhere else in the world:

Now Britain is officially in double-dip recession, and has achieved the remarkable feat of doing worse this time around than it did in the 1930s.

Now, the defense I hear from Cameron apologists is that the austerity mostly hasn’t even hit yet. But that’s really not much of a defense. Remember, the austerity was supposed to work by inspiring confidence; where’s the confidence? Basically, the expansionary aspect should already have kicked in; it’s all contraction from here.

Needless to say, Cameron and Osborne insist that they will not change course, which means that Britain will continue on a death spiral of self-defeating austerity.

It's amazing, really, how Keynes looked back at the Great Depression and learned something, which the right have forgotten for ideological reasons. It's simple: the way out of a recession is for governments to borrow money to get people back to work. This causes growth. The government can then pay back the money when revenues rise because of that growth. Right now, with real interest rates around –4% (yes, minus four), people will actually pay the US government to lend it money. The UK is in a similar situation.

So: the way for the West to get out of the recession is pretty clear, and today's UK GDP growth numbers confirm it. But politicians in most of the world don't believe the facts before them yet. And the recession drags on.

One step closer to civilization

Connecticut's house has voted to repeal the death penalty, which will make the state the 17th to abolish it:

Senate Bill 280 cleared the House 86-62, a vote that broke largely along party lines. The bill now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has pledged to sign it, ending a form of punishment in the state that dates back to Colonial times when those convicted of being witches were sent to the gallows.

[S]upporters of the repeal effort say the state's death penalty is irrevocably broken — just one man, serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in the past 50 years, and that was after he waived his appeals. Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican from Trumbull who supported the repeal bill, called the current death penalty "a paper tiger."

Others pointed out that government is not infallible, and the chance, however slight, of an innocent person being executed is too grave a risk when the punishment is death.

And just a quick reminder, here are the jurisdictions that still have capital punishment: Belarus, China (PRC), Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (ROC), Tonga, United States, Vietnam. We executed 46 people in 2010, putting us ahead of everyone in the world except China (over 4,000), Iran (252), North Korea (60), and Yemen (53). Great company to be in.

Oh, and thanks to a couple southern states, we're the only democracy that executes children.

Connecticut is making the right move. I hope the rest of the country follows suit.

Another example of Canada's good cents

Via Sullivan, the Royal Canadian Mint has stopped producing pennies and will withdraw them from circulation this year, saving $11m outright and eliminating a $150m drag on the Canadian economy:

It costs the government 1.6 cents to produce one penny, which has been made of copper-plated zinc and copper-plated steel since 1997.

The penny, with two maple leafs on one side and Queen Elizabeth II on the other, can continue to be used in payments. As they are gradually withdrawn from circulation, price rounding on cash transactions will be required, the government said.

The calculation of the federal goods and services tax and provincial sales taxes will continue to be calculated to the penny and added to the price, with rounding only taking place on the total payment.

Non-cash payments on checks and credit cards will continue to be rounded to the nearest cent.

Here's hoping we can eliminate ours as well, as they cost the U.S. 2.6¢ each. Of course, the Canadian program I really want to see would save our economy tens of billions of dollars a year...but apparently we're ready yet.

Separation of Church and State in the UK

The United Kingdom has no Constitutional prohibition against established religion; in fact, the head of state is also the head of the church. But the UK has a much deeper secular grain than we have, to the extent that many people in the country get quite exercised about even public prayer. The Washington Post explains the latest row:

Local lawmaker Clive Bone, an atheist, was backed by four of his peers in challenging the long-standing tradition of opening public meetings with blessings by Christian clergy. After losing two council votes on the prayer ban, Bone took the town to court — winning a ruling last month that appeared to set a legal precedent by saying government had no authority to compel citizens to hear prayer.

Bone, a transplanted Londoner and retired management consultant who has given up his seat on the council, said: “This isn’t about freedom of religion. I will defend their right to pray in their churches to my dying breath. Just don’t make us listen to it anymore. It is a backwards tradition that alienates people in this country.”

Most people I know in the UK say religion is entirely private, and would likely be offended at having to listen to prayers at minor public meanings. It's yet another example of how really out of step the rest of the Western world are with us.

World population at 7 billion

Back in October, the United Nations declared that the world population had hit 7 billion. The U.S. Census Bureau, however, believes differently. Here are the World and U.S. population clocks from a moment ago:

So, as far as the Census is concerned, we'll hit 7 billion tonight sometime.

That the Census didn't update its estimates to match the U.N.'s suggests they're confident of their more conservative model.

London bracing for the Olympics

Atlantic Cities contributor Feargus O'Sullivan reports from London on the city's preparations for, and apprehension about, this summer's games:

As a recent survey by pollsters ComRes showed, public ambivalence still reigns, with only a third of respondents agreeing that the Olympics were worth the money. Londoners in particular are anticipating the games with more dread that excitement. With a heavy tax bill and an already stretched transport system, it’s easy to see why they’re feeling curmudgeonly. The city’s roads are routinely clogged as it is, and many fear planned Olympic lanes for athletes and VIPs on major routes will make congestion unmanageable, driving people out of cars and into a temperamental subway system that already makes the average sardine can look roomy. Add to this London’s role as a prime target for international terror and you’re looking at a long hot summer of tension and stress.

But while some fear that the games will make the city a living hell, others are predicting the opposite – that Olympic price hikes will leave London empty and that tourist revenues will plummet. In December, the European Tour Operators Association warned that the games are already deterring regular sightseers, with hotel bookings down by a fifth compared to the same period last year. Musical theater composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, meanwhile, has said advanced bookings for London’s theaters are so bad for the summer that the sector “faces a bloodbath." Given these two contradictory extremes of anxiety, it’s hardly surprising that the official response to such pre-games jitters has been one of bullish confidence, with London’s eccentric mayor Boris Johnson memorably dubbing Olympic skeptics “Gloomadon poppers."

I, for one, plan to avoid London from June to September this year. But I'm going next week, and while there I'll check out the stadium and the public's mood. Remember, many of us Chicagoans didn't want to bid on 2016 because of the mess we thought it would bring to our city. Let's see how London does.

Goldberg interviews the President

The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg spent 45 minutes with President Obama this week. The President laid out his thoughts on Israel and Iran, and reminded us why we voted for him:

President Obama: I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don't bluff. I also don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say. Let me describe very specifically why this is important to us.

[A]s Israel's closest friend and ally, and as one that has devoted the last three years to making sure that Israel has additional security capabilities, and has worked to manage a series of difficult problems and questions over the past three years, I do point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.

In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table.

It's a long interview, but one worth reading. And I think it sends a clear message to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: don't go rogue on this.

Why Putin rigs elections

Via Viennese news aggregator Eurozine, an analysis of Vladimir Putin's "managed democracy":

Elections were of critical importance for Putin not only for the sake of legitimacy, but also for the sake of governability. Putin could not have governed for the past decade without the ritualized authorization provided by rigged elections.

Thus, by far the most important political role of sham elections during the past dozen years has been the way they have allowed Putin to display his capacity for manipulating them in an orderly and predictable way and thereby, paradoxically, to demonstrate his authoritarian credentials. Rigged elections, known to be rigged, are the cheapest and easiest way for the regime to mimic the authoritarian power it does not actually possess and thereby to bolster its faltering grip on the country, or at least give itself more breathing room.

By engineering rigged elections that nobody bothered or dared to protest, Putin managed to conceal his regime's deepest secret, namely that Russia, rather than being misgoverned, is governed very laxly if at all. Contrary to the predominant view, Putin's real power has never extended much beyond Moscow. Russia's strongman has been strong enough to prevent anyone from aspiring to replace him; but he has spectacularly failed in his attempts to rule his country.

Truly strong, legitimate leaders can win elections on the merits, as we've demonstrated off and on for almost 230 years in the U.S. But as much as Putin rigs his elections, at least he's not Turkmenbashi.